Riyadh, Saudi Arabia—Saudi Arabia hosts the G20 summit Saturday in a first for an Arab nation, but the scaled-down virtual format could limit debate on a resurgent coronavirus pandemic and crippling economic crisis.
The two-day meeting of the world’s wealthiest nations follows a bitter US election disputed by President Donald Trump and comes amid criticism over what campaigners call the group’s inadequate response to the worst recession in decades.
Held under the shadow of a raging pandemic, the summit which is usually an opportunity for one-on-one engagements between world leaders, is reduced to brief online sessions on pressing global issues—from climate change to growing inequality.
Discussions are expected to be dominated by the “implications of the pandemic” and “steps for reviving the global economy,” a source close to the Saudi organizers told AFP.
New vaccine breakthroughs have raised hopes of containing the virus, which has infected 55 million people globally and left 1.3 million dead.
The Paris-based OECD projects global economic output will contract by 4.5 percent this year.
G20 nations have contributed more than $21 billion to combat the pandemic, including production and distribution of vaccines, and injected $11 trillion to “safeguard” the virus-battered world economy, organizers said.
But the group faces mounting pressure to help stave off possible credit defaults across developing nations.
Last week, G20 finance ministers declared a “common framework” for an extended debt restructuring plan for virus-ravaged countries, but campaign group Action Aid described the measure as “woefully inadequate.”
Mistrust between member states has hampered coordination, with a US Treasury official accusing China—a top creditor to poor countries—of a “lack of full participation” and transparency.
“We are facing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis and women in developing countries are bearing the worst impacts of the health and economic fallout,” said Action Aid’s Katherine Tu.
“Yet the G20 has its head in the sand and is failing to respond to the urgency of the situation.”
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman will preside over what some observers call “digital diplomacy.”
The virtual setting could frustrate “spontaneous combustion” among leaders, limiting “encounters on unscheduled subjects,” said John Kirton, director and founder of the Canada-based G20 Research Group.
World leaders, from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, are expected to make speeches, sources close to the organizers said.