G20: Obama on the back foot
Seoul, South Korea: The global economy looks stronger now than it did at the G20 Summit in London last spring. But the will to cooperate looks a lot weaker - and so does President Obama.
Even a few weeks ago, there was talk of China being forced into a corner at this meeting - signing up to a significant appreciation of its currency against the dollar. There was even the possibility that Treasury secretary Geithner would get his way in having concrete current account targets for countries in the G20.
But talking to officials here, it's striking how much the results of the US congressional elections, and surprisingly widespread criticism of the Fed's new round of quantitative easing, has changed the mood. To many leaders gathered here, Mr Obama no longer looks like the coming man.
Bizarrely, now it's the US that is on the defensive for manipulating its currency. The only concrete "deliverable" the US delegation had been hoping for from this Summit was the Korea-US free trade agreement. On the basis of the two presidents joint press conference earlier today, it seems they are not going to get even that.
Sooner or later, the pendulum will swing back again. But for the moment, the Chinese can scarcely believe their luck. With the German chancellor, the Brazilian finance minister and others all joining China in criticising the US, a debate about global imbalances and China's role in reducing them, has somehow turned into a debate about the evils of US monetary policy.
That is quite a turnaround. Especially when you consider that the US is one of the handful of countries in the G20 that does not fix its national currency, or directly intervene in the markets to change its value.
The dollar has fallen against most currencies since the summer. But it is still stronger against the pound and the euro than it was at the start of the year. And last week's move by the Fed did not produce a major slide: in fact, thanks to the latest round of worries about eurozone debt, against the euro, the dollar has gone slightly up.
US officials are optimistic that China will budge on the exchange rate tomorrow, but the change in the balance of power means that the move will be less immediate, and probably less ambitious than Mr Obama would have wanted.
Instead of Mr Geithner's current account targets, there might be a weak agreement on trade "tripwires", with the IMF reviewing countries that reach a certain level of current account deficit or surplus- most likely 4% of GDP. But for the Germans, even that is a hard sell.
In Washington last week, President Obama was deemed insufficiently penitent in his response to last week's election results. Supporters said he didn't apologise because he didn't think he had anything to apologise for. He looked for all the world like a man who thought the voters ought to be apologising to him - for giving him so little credit for averting a depression.
Rightly or wrongly, Mr Obama must think the G20's harsh verdict on US policies is equally unjust.
Update, 09:57: When I discussed these issues on Today this morning Jim O'Neill, Goldman Sachs' economic supremo, said - with some justice - that I was focussing excessively on the problems of the West. You can listen to what we said and decide for yourself.