Coronavirus crisis to dominate Saudi-hosted G20 summit


Saudi Arabia hosts the G20 summitSaturday in a first for an Arab nation, with the downsized virtual forumdominated by efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and a cripplingeconomic crisis, reports AFP.

The two-day meeting of the world’s wealthiest nations comes as PresidentDonald Trump refuses to concede a bitter election and campaigners criticize what they call the G20’s inadequate response to the worst global recession indecades.

World leaders will huddle virtually as international efforts intensify fora large-scale roll out of coronavirus vaccines after a breakthrough intrials, and as calls grow for G20 nations to plug funding shortfalls.

Amid a raging pandemic, the summit, which is usually an opportunity forone-on-one engagements between world leaders, is reduced to brief online sessions of what some observers call “digital diplomacy”.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman will preside over the summit, with sources closeto the organisers saying climate change was among the issues topping the agenda.

World leaders, from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Chinese President XiJinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, are expected to make speeches atthe summit, the sources said.

Trump will also participate, a US official said. G20 nations have contributed more than $21 billion to combat the pandemic,which has infected 56 million people globally and left 1.3 million dead, andinjected $11 trillion to “safeguard” the virus-battered world economy,organisers said.

The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Developmentprojects global economic output will contract by 4.5 percent this year.

The summit “will seek to strengthen international cooperation to supportthe global economic recovery,” said Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al- Jadaan.

“The G20 committed in March to do ‘whatever it takes to overcome thepandemic and protect lives and livelihoods,'” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.

“As we meet this weekend, we must hold ourselves to account for thatpromise.”

But G20 leaders face mounting pressure to help stave off possible creditdefaults across developing nations.

– ‘Bolder measures’ –

Last week, G20 finance ministers declared a “common framework” for anextended debt restructuring plan for virus-ravaged countries, but campaign groups have described the measure as insufficient. The constituent nations extended a debt suspension initiative fordeveloping countries until the end of June next year.

But UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged G20 leaders to offer a“firm committment” to extend the initiative until the end of 2021.

International Monetary Fund managing director KristalinaGeorgieva haswarned that the global economy faces a hard road back from the Covid-19downturn even as vaccines are now in sight.

G20 nations must help plug a $4.5 billion funding gap in the so-called ACT-Accelerator — a programme that promotes an equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines — to rein in the pandemic, said a joint statement signed byNorway’s prime minister, South Africa’s president, the heads of the EuropeanUnion and the World Health Organization.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a staunch Trump defender, will bepresent in Saudi Arabia during the summit. Trump, who continues to reject his election loss, took part Friday in anAsia-Pacific summit.

Many of his fellow G20 leader have already congratulated President-electJoe Biden.

– ‘Serious abuses’ –

Ahead of the summit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyensaid she hoped the US will adopt a more multilateralist stance under Biden. “We also expect of course new momentum from the new US administration” onclimate change, reversing Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord,she added.

Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has overshadowed the event.

Campaigners and families of jailed activists have launched vigorous drivesto highlight the kingdom’s human rights abuses.

Key among them are the siblings of jailed activist Loujain al-Hathloul, onhunger strike for more than 20 days demanding regular family contact.

But some Western officials have indicated human rights would not be raisedat the summit, saying they prefer to use bilateral forums to discuss the issue with the Saudi government.

“The G20 presidency has conferred an undeserved mark of internationalprestige on the [Saudi] government,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“Instead of signalling its concern for Saudi Arabia’s serious abuses, theG20 is bolstering the Saudi government’s well-funded publicity efforts toportray the country as ‘reforming’ despite a significant increase inrepression.”