The global crisis caused by the coronavirus requires a global response and the G20 countries, the twenty main economies of the world, are working on it, meeting virtually at the summit that is held this weekend in Riyadh. The fight against the pandemic and its effects are the central themes of the meeting officially opened by King Salmán bin Abdulaziz, who focused his speech on the importance of the vaccine and called for “creating the conditions for affordable and equitable access for all world”. The monarch stressed the importance of developing strategies to be prepared “for future pandemics” and insisted that the key to overcoming the health crisis and the worst economic recession in recent decades is “international cooperation.”
More than 55 million people are already infected and 1.3 million have lost their lives due to covid-19 worldwide. Different laboratories are close to starting to distribute vaccines and from organizations such as the United Nations, its secretary general, Antonio Guterres, recalled that “vaccines should be treated as a public good (…) accessible to everyone”. On the eve of the start of the summit in Riyadh, several countries urged the G20 to cover the 4.5 billion dollars required by the World Health Organization (WHO) fund dedicated to distributing vaccines. Vladimir Putin showed Russia’s willingness to send its Sputnik vaccine to the country that needs it and announced that its researchers are working on two other vaccines.
The previous meeting of these leaders took place in March and since then they have injected 17.7 billion euros to mitigate the impact on the world economy of the pandemic. The G20 has also launched a mechanism that allows the suspension of the debt of developing countries, which will be able to postpone payments corresponding to 2020. More than 70 countries have already taken up this initiative. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for unity and insisted that “only by joining forces and working together how can we defeat the coronavirus and emerge stronger from this crisis.”
The G20 is made up of the United States, which could see Donald Trump in his first major global intervention after a defeat in the elections that he still does not recognize, Russia, China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, the India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, South Africa and Turkey, as well as by the European Union (EU); Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, holds the presidency this year and Spain is a permanent guest country.
On the agenda of these 48 hours of tele-diplomacy there is also room for climate change. The relief in the White House sheds hope in a field that was seriously affected by Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. The arrival of Joe Biden opens the doors for Washington to once again bet on multilateralism. As the European Union has already done, half of the G20 members have already adhered to the plan to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.
A missed opportunity to clean up Bin Salmán’s image
Covid-19 has made digital diplomacy replace face-to-face. The videoconference brings together the G-20 leaders on the same screen, but it does not have the same media impact as official visits, press conferences and gala dinners. Saudi Arabia is the first Arab country to host this summit and these days were marked on its calendar as an opportunity to show the world the image of openness and changes that the crown prince, Mohamed Bin Salmán (MBS), is trying to print.
The kingdom is trying to improve its image in the West, very touched after the murder and dismemberment of ‘The Washington Post’ columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. At first, Riyadh denied any connection to the murder, but with the passing of the days and the tests, he admitted death within the legation at the hands of officials, but denied any involvement of MBS in it. The crown prince is a red line for the crown.
To this crime must be added the systematic detention of human rights activists, as has been denounced throughout the week by organizations such as Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International.