Saudi King Salman opened the G20 summit on Saturday in a first for an Arab nation, with the virtual forum dominated by efforts to tackle the coronavirus crisis and the worst global recession in decades.
G20 leaders, including US President Donald Trump who refuses to concede a bitter election, appeared in multiple windows on a flickering screen, during a high-stakes webinar held amid the raging pandemic.
Leaders huddle in line for the two-day ‘rally’ as international efforts intensify for a large-scale deployment of coronavirus vaccines after a breakthrough in trials, and as calls mount for G20 countries are closing a $ 4.5 billion funding gap.
“While we are optimistic about the progress made in the development of vaccines, therapies and diagnostic tools for Covid-19, we must work to create the conditions for affordable and equitable access to these tools for all”, said King Salman, host of the summit.
“We have a duty to rise to the challenge together at this summit and to send a strong message of hope and comfort to our people by adopting policies to alleviate this crisis,” he told world leaders in the opening speech.
As the pioneering event began, there were a few quirks at the start, with someone overhearing the King saying “the whole world is watching” before the event started, with Chinese President Xi Jinping apparently expected to call for technical aid and French President Emmanuel Macron chatting with an assistant off camera.
With Saudi hopes for a big coming-out parade dashed due to the pandemic, the event is reduced to brief online sessions of what observers call “digital diplomacy.”
Although it had to give up much of the usual summit pageantry, Saudi Arabia kicked off the meeting with an aerobatic demonstration over Riyadh.
And deprived of the possibility of taking the traditional “family photo”, a montage of the leaders of the G20 was projected on the ruins of the historic city of Diriyah during a gala on Friday.
Along with Xi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin are among the leaders expected to speak at the summit, with climate change high on the agenda, sources close to the organizers said. .
Trump is also participating but it is not known whether the US president, who continues to reject his electoral defeat, will deliver a speech. Many G20 leaders have already congratulated his rival, President-elect Joe Biden.
“More daring measures”
G20 countries have contributed more than $ 21 billion to fight the pandemic, which has infected 56 million people worldwide and claimed 1.3 million lives, and injected $ 11 trillion to “save” the economy world ravaged by viruses, organizers said.
But group executives face increasing pressure to help avoid possible credit defaults in developing countries.
Last week, its finance ministers declared a “common framework” for an extended debt restructuring plan for countries ravaged by the virus, but campaigners say the measure is insufficient.
Ministers had extended a debt suspension initiative for developing countries until June of next year, but UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has pushed for him to commit to the extend until the end of 2021.
The Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, has warned that the global economy faces a difficult path out of the Covid-19 slowdown even as vaccines are now in sight.
G20 countries must help close the $ 4.5 billion funding gap in the so-called ACT-Accelerator, the Prime Minister of Norway, the President of South Africa, the heads of the European Union and the World Health Organization asked in a joint letter to the group.
The program promotes equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to curb the pandemic.
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has cast a shadow over the rally, as activists and the families of jailed activists launch vigorous campaigns to highlight the issue.
Investment Minister Khalid al-Falih was asked at a press conference whether Saudi Arabia should try a different approach to overcome negative headlines, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the imprisonment of criticism in the context of an ongoing crackdown.
In a country where executives rarely answer this type of question, the moderator asked the reporter to take the question elsewhere, but Falih insisted on answering.
“Investors are not journalists, investors are looking for countries where they can trust an effective government with appropriate economic decision-making,” he said.
Some Western officials indicated that human rights would not be discussed at the summit, saying they preferred to use bilateral forums to discuss the issue with Riyadh.
“Instead of signaling concern over Saudi Arabia’s serious abuses, the G20 is supporting the Saudi government’s well-funded advertising efforts to portray the country as ‘reformer’ despite a significant increase in repression,” Page said Michael Page by Human Rights Watch.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by The Bharat Express News staff and is posted Platforms.)