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Saudi to host online G20 summit

Riyadh

SAUDI Arabia will host the annual G20 summit on 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 US 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", said a source close to the Saudi organisers.

The Paris-based OECD projects global economic output will contract by 4.5 per cent this year. G20 nations have contributed more than US$21 billion to combat the pandemic, including production and distribution of vaccines, and injected US$11 trillion to "safeguard" the virus-battered world economy, organisers said.

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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".

"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.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a staunch defender of Mr Trump, will be present in Saudi Arabia during the summit. It was unclear whether Mr Trump will speak at the event alongside world leaders, many of whom have already congratulated his Democratic rival, President-elect Joe Biden.

"Trump's actions at the summit are not likely to have as much of an effect as they might have in previous years," Ryan Bohl, of US geopolitical think-tank Stratfor, told AFP.

"Even should he not attend, his 'lame duck' status will make that relatively palatable. It would be just one more norm he upsets on his way out."

The summit was supposed to be a coming-out party of sorts for Saudi Arabia on the world stage.

"The G20 this year will be a disappointing one overall for Saudi Arabia as a virtual conference will not showcase the kingdom's progress in the ways Riyadh hoped," said Mr Bohl. AFP

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