A First: Saudi Arabia to Host G20 Summit

Experts say global pandemic, especially its economic, social effects, magnifies importance of gathering

With an agenda of “Restoring Growth and Safeguarding against the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Saudi Arabia will host for the first time the G20 leaders summit on November 21-22 – although online rather than in Riyadh due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud will chair the annual gathering, called to tackle issues and challenges “that have an impact on sustainable development including structural inequalities and debt repayments at a time when resources are needed to tackle the pandemic and protect sustainable development.”

Mohammed Al Sabban, a Saudi diplomat, economist and former senior adviser to the Saudi petroleum minister, told The Media Line the G20 summit was especially important for the kingdom, the region and the entire world because of the critical period in which it was taking place.

“Let’s not forget that the summit is being held during a global pandemic, which, as the secretary-general of the United Nations said, has revealed the fragility of the global economy. Therefore, the global economy’s board of directors, the G20, will manage this crisis,” he said.

Let’s not forget that the summit is being held during a global pandemic, which, as the secretary-general of the United Nations said, has revealed the fragility of the global economy

Millions of people have been infected with the novel coronavirus and many have died, an economic recession is sweeping the world, and global demand for oil has dropped enormously, Al Sabban notes.

“All of these factors have directed the agenda of the G20 summit toward a certain direction,” he added.

The summit will focus on protecting lives and restoring economic growth, he continued, adding that wealthy countries had allocated huge sums toward providing basic medical services and helping poor countries face the health crisis.

In a bid to safeguard the global economy from the effects of the virus, G20 countries have injected more than $11 trillion into their own economies in order to “quickly return to normal economic growth rates and to face the current challenges,” Al Sabban added.

The development of effective vaccines against the coronavirus have provided cheerful news for the summit, and the attending countries need to facilitate the distribution of these vaccines to a variety of countries, especially the poor ones that cannot afford to purchase them, he said.

The G20 summit said in a statement on Thursday that $21 billion had been invested “to bridge the health funding gap and to enhance pandemic preparedness and response.”

Sabban clarified that the main aim of the summit was “human empowerment” in terms of investment opportunities, enhancing the level of education and empowering women and young people to lead politically and socially.

“This summit has changed its nature, where the agendas of previous summits were monotonous. But there’s a humanitarian theme to this summit: that cooperation and assistance are the basics of interdependence and globalization, where a country that isolates itself can’t achieve what it wishes for or desires. This summit will be remembered throughout the coming decades,” he said.

This summit has changed its nature, where the agendas of previous summits were monotonous. But there’s a humanitarian theme to this summit

Al Sabban added that the group had launched a debt-suspension initiative for the least developed countries, allowing them to defer $14 billion in debt payments due this year and to use this money instead to fund their health systems and social programs.

Forty-six poor countries have already benefited from this initiative, including the most vulnerable ones.

Al Sabban says the summit comes at a time when the kingdom is implementing Saudi Vision 2030 – a strategic framework formulated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – which aims to diversify the Saudi economy while decreasing the dependence on exporting crude oil.

“To that end, the summit is an opportunity for all leaders of the G20 countries to learn about the unique experience of the kingdom in terms of sustainable development, as Saudi Arabia has lived for decades as a rentier community that depended on one source, while now, it is achieving successes in diversifying its economy,” he said.

A central part of Saudi Vision 2030 is for Saudi women to work across a broad spectrum of sectors as opposed to being limited to such fields as education. Riyadh has publicly committed to increasing the rate of female employment from 22% to 30% by reforming both the economy and the legal system.

Prof. Widad al-Jarwan, a Saudi analyst who specializes in political sociology at King Saud University in Riyadh, told The Media Line the G20 summit was the 15th meeting of the group and the second to be hosted by a Middle Eastern nation. Five years ago, Turkey hosted the gathering.

“It comes in light of the kingdom’s commitment to broadening views toward regional and international development solutions, and addressing crises in the world, the most important of which is the coronavirus crisis,” Jarwan said.

It comes in light of the kingdom’s commitment to broadening views toward regional and international development solutions, and addressing crises in the world, the most important of which is the coronavirus crisis

She clarified that Saudi Arabia was hosting the summit due to its weight in the political, economic and developmental spheres, whether domestically or at the level of the region and the world.

“Its international weight is seen in the oil market, and its religious weight in protecting and serving the pilgrims of the Two Holy Mosques from all over the world, in addition to the growing and rapid internal development in terms of the advancement of higher education for young people of both sexes,” Jarwan said.

Moreover, she pointed to the increasing empowerment of Saudi women in terms of education, work, travel, family rights, developing cities culturally while paying attention to villages, celebrations and cultural centers, and many other internal social issues.

“Anyone who lives in the kingdom or outside it will notice the growing recent developments in walks of life that match and even surpass some aspects of life in developed countries,” Jarwan said.

Anyone who lives in the kingdom or outside it will notice the growing recent developments in walks of life that match and even surpass some aspects of life in developed countries

The COVID-19 crisis is testing Saudi development, as the kingdom has made great efforts to face the epidemic and provide all capabilities of care to protect human lives and the economy as well, she said.

“Yesterday [Wednesday], there were fewer than 290 new coronavirus cases, and throughout the pandemic crisis, the deaths did not exceed 5% [of confirmed cases], while recoveries were at 95%,” she continued.

Saudi Vision 2030 seeks to achieve solidarity and understanding regionally and globally, whether regarding the current pandemic or others, so people can live in peace and prosperity, and develop and modernize their social, economic and educational lives, Jarwan said.

Suliman al-Ogaily, a member of the board of directors of the Saudi Society for Political Science, told The Media Line the kingdom’s leadership of the powerful global economic bloc’s summit constituted a milestone for the summit itself, as it was being led for the first time by an Arab country “amid global confidence in the kingdom’s ability to offer new solutions to global challenges and crises.

“The summit comes at a very difficult time globally, as the pandemic strikes the world, wiping out the lives of citizens and destroying economies. It also comes against the backdrop of the retreat of the American leadership’s international efforts,” Ogaily said.

He said that saving lives and livelihoods, which the summit will focus on, was vital to saving humanity from the epidemic and preventing people from dying from hunger and malnutrition.

“The challenges facing the world today are more dangerous than in 2008, when the G20 summits switched from the ministerial to the state leader level because of the financial crisis,” he noted.

Ogaily clarified that during the Extraordinary G20 Leaders Summit last March, also held online and hosted by Saudi Arabia, the world laid down a preliminary road map to lift the global economy out of recession, support weak economies and support medical research and therapeutic real estate.

“That’s what is now appearing on the horizon, in a short period not exceeding a year,” he noted. “This is a miracle in medical research protocols thanks to the funds provided by the G20.”

The commitments made at the summit on March 26 succeeded in injecting more than $5 trillion into the world economy to confront the social, economic and financial impacts of the pandemic.

“It helped the global economy move out of recession, as oil prices jumped from $20 [per barrel] to $40,” Ogaily said.

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