Saudi Arabia receives a virtual G20 amid pandemic and economic crisis

Saudi Arabia receives the G20 summit this weekend, a first for an Arab country, although under a virtual format that can limit its scope in the face of an agenda fraught by the devastating economic consequences of the pandemic, including for poor countries.

The meeting will also plan the shadow of the chaotic political transition in the United States. On Wednesday, the White House had not commented on the participation of Donald Trump, who persists in questioning his defeat in the presidential election.

There will be no grand opening ceremony in Riyadh, but there will be screens that will open one after another in Paris, Berlin, Moscow …

King Salmán brings together the heads of state and government of the 20 richest nations in the world for two days to discuss the “consequences of the pandemic” and “measures to relaunch the world economy,” a source told .. of the organizers.

Although the race for vaccines is accelerating, raising hopes of finally eradicating the virus that has infected 55 million people and killed more than 1.3 million people, the world economy does not yet see the end of the tunnel: according to the International Monetary Fund, world GDP would decline 4.4% in 2020.

The G20 countries spent 11 trillion dollars to save the world economy and must face a time bomb: the debt of poor countries, facing the collapse (-700,000 million dollars, according to the OECD) of their external financing.

On Friday, the G20 finance ministers reached an agreement on a “common framework”, involving for the first time China and private creditors, to lighten the burden of debt. An advance in relation to the moratorium on the payment of interest installed in April, but still insufficient for the NGOs.

Katherine Tu, from Action Aid, believes that “the G20 hides its head like an ostrich and does not respond to the urgency of the situation”, when 88 to 115 million more people would sink into extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.

One solution would be to resort to the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights, a financing instrument used during the 2008 crisis. Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jaddan was confident, in an interview with the Financial Times on Tuesday, on its “forthcoming” adoption, despite initial US reservations.

– Human rights –

Although US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be present in Saudi Arabia during the summit, uncertainty remains about Donald Trump’s participation. One thing is for sure: it will not be in the traditional group photo, because it will not be because of the virtual format.

This will take away a lot of interest in this G20 summit, since in these great meetings the very consensual official program or the insipid final announcements are not as important as the meetings alone between the powerful, the relationships woven “at the table, in the coffee break , in hotel corridors or gyms, “according to John Kirton, director of the G20 Research Center.

But “digital diplomacy” also has its advantages, if only for logistical or security reasons, in a region under very high tension, says this professor from the University of Toronto.

In any case, this summit is “clearly a missed opportunity” for Saudi Arabia, which “wanted to benefit from improving its image”, affected by the murder two years ago of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, considers Camille Lons, from the International Institute for Strategic Studies ( IISS, according to its acronym in English).

The pandemic deprives Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salmán of a global rostrum and NGOs are not going to miss the opportunity to ask the international community about the question of human rights.

Close associates of the imprisoned militants called on world leaders to boycott the summit or at least pressure Saudi leaders to release political prisoners.

“Don’t make it easy for them to clean up their human rights balance sheet,” Safa al-Ahmad, director of the London-based human rights NGO ALQST, told ..

ac-evs / aue / bfi / eg / mar