Coronavirus crisis to dominate Saudi-hosted G20 summit

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia opened the G20 summit on Saturday in a first for an Arab nation, with the virtual forum dominated by efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and the worst global recession in decades.
The two-day meeting of the world’s wealthiest nations comes as President Donald Trump refuses to concede a bitter election and campaigners criticise what they call the G20’s inadequate response to the crippling economic crisis.
World leaders are huddling virtually as international efforts intensify for a large-scale rollout of coronavirus vaccines after a breakthrough in trials, and as calls grow for G20 nations to plug a $4.5 billion funding shortfall.
Amid a raging pandemic, the summit is reduced to brief online sessions of “digital diplomacy”, and Saudi hopes for a grand coming-out parade have been dashed.
“It is unfortunate that we are unable to host you in person in Riyadh, due to the exceptional circumstances that we are all facing this year,” King Salman, the summit’s hosts, told world leaders in opening remarks via videoconference.
“Our peoples and economies are still suffering from this shock. However, we will do our best to overcome this crisis through international cooperation,” he said, as de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman looked on. Despite having to abandon much of the usual summit pageantry, the kingdom launched the event with an aerial display of passenger and aerobatic planes over Riyadh.
And denied the opportunity to take the traditional “family photo”, a montage of G20 leaders was projected onto the ruins of the historical town of Diriyah during a gala event on Friday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin are among leaders expected to speak at the summit, with climate change among the issues topping the agenda, sources close to the organisers said.
Donald Trump is also taking part but it is unclear whether the US president, who continues to reject his election loss, will make an address. Many G20 leaders have already congratulated his rival, President-elect Joe Biden.
As the trailblazing event got underway, there were some early quirks, with someone telling King Salman that “the whole world is watching” before the event started, Xi apparently having to call for technical help, and French President Emmanuel Macron chatting to an aide off camera. — AFP