King Salman of Saudi Arabia inaugurated this Saturday the G20 summit, the forum of the largest world economies that his country has chaired during this year rocked by the pandemic. Predictably, the monarch has called on the participants to work towards obtaining affordable vaccines for all. Although covid-19 dominates the agenda, the leaders, meeting by videoconference, also debate how to reactivate the economy, the strengthening of multilateral institutions and the extension of the debt moratorium to the poorest countries.
“Although we are optimistic about the advances in the development of vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tools for covid-19, we must create the conditions so that everyone can obtain them in an affordable and equitable way,” said Salmán, 84, after regretting that the appointment could not be in person.
In this new formula of “digital diplomacy”, the message is also the staging. The split screen format showed the other 19 heads of state and government members of the G20 (including the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen), guests such as Pedro Sánchez from Spain, and representatives of international partner organizations. Its rotating squares confirmed the participation of US President Donald Trump, whose image appeared next to that of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, just below the Saudi monarch.
A plan of the room where the king was reading his speech showed his son and heir, Prince Mohamed Bin Salmán, seated to his right. If how he interpreted the kremlinology in Soviet times the location means something, the frame conveyed a clear message of support for the controversial prince in the face of criticism of his authoritarian style that human rights groups have agitated in the weeks leading up to the summit.
King Salmán recalled that the G20 has committed “at least 21,000 million dollars [17.700 millones de dólares] to support the fight against the pandemic ”, and“ injected 11 trillion dollars in support of our economies to save lives and businesses ”. In addition, he referred to the Debt Service Suspension Initiative, approved by finance ministers last week with the aim of helping the poorest countries.
Many consider it insufficient. The NGOs have called for “bolder measures” in debt relief. The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, has joined those voices and expressed his wish that the suspension of payments be extended until the end of 2021.
In addition, several leaders have signed a letter, which was leaked on Friday night, requesting the G20 to expand its funding to fight the virus. Specifically, they urge their members to cover the 4.5 billion dollars needed by the World Health Organization (WHO) fund dedicated to distributing vaccines. It remains to be seen what room for maneuver the leaders have to achieve transfer of those objectives to the final communiqué before the closing of the forum this Sunday.
The EU team, in favor of strengthening the role of the WHO and of closer global cooperation for the approval and deployment of a vaccine, was optimistic after the initial round of contacts, informs Lluís Pellicer from Brussels. The day before, during a press conference, Von der Leyen estimated that guaranteeing access to the vaccine for developing countries that cannot afford its purchase would require $ 37.2 billion (about 31.2 billion euros). “It seems like a lot, but it is not compared to the cost of this crisis,” he said. The EU is also going to propose a treaty on pandemics, according to the President of the Council, Charles Michel.
Europeans back the World Trade Organization (WTO), which the king referred to during his speech. “Aware that trade is a key factor for economic recovery, we have adopted the Riyadh Initiative on the future of the WTO, in order to strengthen the multilateral trading system in the face of present and future challenges,” said Salmán.
It is becoming more delicate to agree on the section referring to climate change, due to last minute objections from Turkey. The Saudi monarch also stressed the need for the economic recovery to be made in a sustainable way to preserve the environment. Coming from the head of state of the world’s largest oil exporter, this is undoubtedly a breakthrough. However, the monarch made it clear that Saudi Arabia advocates a “circular carbon economy to achieve climate goals.” This model, which promotes better management of carbon emissions and their reuse, is rejected by many experts and activists as insufficient.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.