Saudi Arabia is hosting the G20 summit on Saturday in a first for an Arab nation, with the declining virtual forum dominated by efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and a crippling economic crisis.
The two-day meeting between the world’s richest countries comes when President Donald Trump refuses to admit a bitter election and campaigns criticize what they call the G20’s inadequate response to the worst global recession in decades.
World leaders will practically hug each other as international efforts intensify for a large-scale rollout of coronavirus vaccines following a breakthrough in trials, and as talks grow for G20 countries to close funding gaps.
In the midst of a raging pandemic, the summit, which is usually an opportunity for one-on-one missions between world leaders, is reduced to short online sessions by what some observers call “digital diplomacy”.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman will lead the summit, with sources close to the organizers saying that climate change was among the issues that topped the agenda.
World leaders, from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, are expected to speak at the summit, sources said.
Trump will also participate, said a US official.
G20 countries have contributed more than $ 21 billion to fight the pandemic, which has infected 56 million people globally and left 1.3 million dead, and injected $ 11 trillion to “protect” the virus-based world economy, organizers said.
The Paris-based organization for economic cooperation and development projects global economic output will decline by 4.5 percent this year.
The summit “will seek to strengthen international cooperation to support the global economic recovery,” said Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan.
“The G20 pledged in March to do ‘what it takes to overcome the pandemic and protect lives and livelihoods,’ ” ”s British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.
“When we meet this weekend, we have to take responsibility for that promise.”
But G20 leaders are facing increasing pressure to ward off possible credit conditions in developing countries.
Last week, G20 finance ministers declared a “common framework” for an expanded debt restructuring plan for countries close to the virus, but campaign groups have described the measure as insufficient.
The acceding countries extended a debt suspension initiative for developing countries until the end of June next year.
But UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on G20 leaders to offer a “firm commitment” to extend the initiative until the end of 2021.
Kristalina Georgieva, Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund, has warned that the global economy is facing a hard way back from the downturn in Covid-19, even though vaccines are now visible.
G20 countries must help put together a $ 4.5 billion funding gap in the so-called ACT Accelerator – a program that promotes a fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines – to clear the pandemic, a joint statement signed by Norwegian Prime Minister. President of South Africa, Heads of the European Union and the World Health Organization.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a strong Trump defender, will be present in Saudi Arabia during the summit.
Trump, who continues to reject his election loss, attended a summit in Asia-Pacific on Friday.
Many of his other G20 leaders have already congratulated President-elect Joe Biden.
Ahead of the summit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she hoped the United States would take a more multilateralist stance under Biden.
“Of course, we also expect new momentum from the new US government” on climate change, which reverses Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, she added.
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has overshadowed the incident.
Campaigns and families of imprisoned activists have launched powerful units to highlight the kingdom’s human rights abuses.
The key among them are the siblings of imprisoned activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who is on hunger strike for more than 20 days and demands regular family contact.
But some Western officials have indicated that human rights would not be addressed at the summit, saying they prefer to use bilateral forums to discuss the issue with the Saudi government.
“The G20 presidency has given the EU an undeserved international reputation [Saudi] government, says Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“Instead of signaling its concern about Saudi Arabia’s serious abuses, the G20 is stepping up the Saudi government’s well – funded publicity efforts to portray the country as ‘reforming’ despite a significant increase in repression.”