All talked about the pandemic, just one not. During the weekend’s digital G-20 summit, the heads of state and government of all but one of the world’s major economies agreed that a global response was needed to fight the pandemic, to distribute the vaccines to all citizens and to show solidarity to absorb the economic consequences for all countries, especially for the poor. In this sense, the Saudi Arabia-funded news channel al-Arabiya quoted Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte and others who were digitally connected from their capitals.
Only one stepped out of line. According to a tape recording that was leaked to the British newspaper “Observer”, the American President Donald Trump said at the opening event that he was looking forward to working with the leaders of the world in this group in the future. When they had already discussed the pandemic in a closed virtual room, Trump still tweets about alleged fakes in the presidential election. And as they discussed further, he went out to play golf.
But once he brushed against the pandemic. “Covid is the biggest issue,” he said loudly on the tape. “With our vaccines we will heal quickly.” But first the demand in America must be met before we can work on vaccines for the rest of the world. This was different from what Russian President Vladimir Putin said, according to Kremlin statements. According to Putin, said vaccines should be available to everyone and Russia will help all countries in need with the Russian vaccines “Sputnik V” and “EpiVacCorona” as well as the third one that is still being developed.
The Saudi King Salman Bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud also used the worldwide attention. The kingdom has funded research for a vaccine with half a billion dollars, said the 84-year-old monarch, and it is now working with others to prepare for future pandemics. The rich countries have a responsibility to help the poor countries in the pandemic.
No PR show for Saudi Arabia
For the first time, a summit meeting of the G20, founded in 1999, took place in an Arab country. Saudi Arabia, which was accepted into this group because of its importance for the energy industry, had big plans for the year of the presidency. The kingdom wanted to show that it was opening up, and it had made it its mission to help save the planet. In view of increasing emissions and a growing world population, climate protection is a priority, King Salman said on Sunday. Saudi Arabia will generate half of its electricity needs from renewable energies in 2030. Trump also disregarded this issue. He once again described the Paris climate agreement as “very unfair and one-sided”. Its aim is to “kill the American economy”.
The summit was neither the hoped-for PR show of the kingdom, nor a boycott round with many rejections, to which critics of the kingdom and especially its crown prince Muhammad bin Salman had called. Presumably, the digital summit format wasn’t even the worst solution for him. Because in this way the elected representatives from democracies could participate and still avoid him.
On Wednesday, the Bundestag Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid issued a statement complaining about the “massive political repression and persecution of dissidents” in Saudi Arabia. In the run-up to the summit, the American economist Joseph Stiglitz called for a minute’s silence for the murdered Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi and the imprisoned women’s rights activists at an event organized by Saudi Arabia. He wanted the summit to address human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and other countries.