G20 to back 'equitable' access to coronavirus vaccine

Daniel Fowler
November 23, 2020

"A commitment by G20 leaders to invest substantially in the ACT-Accelerator's immediate funding gap of $4.5 billion will immediately save lives, lay the groundwork for mass provision of Covid-19 tools around the world, and provide a way out of this global economic and human crisis".

G20 leaders, including US President Donald Trump who is refusing to concede a bitter election, popped up in multiple windows across a flickering screen, in a high-stakes webinar held amid the raging pandemic.

Amid a raging pandemic, the summit - usually an opportunity for one-on-one engagements between world leaders - is reduced to brief online sessions of what some observers call "digital diplomacy".

Saudi Arabia, which assumed the G20 presidency this year, is the host of the virtual summit that is bringing together leaders from the world's richest and most developed economies, such as the US, China, India, Turkey, France, the United Kingdom and Brazil, among others.

"We should firmly safeguard the rules-based multilateral trading system that is transparent, nondiscriminatory, open and inclusive", Xi said, calling on the G20 to oppose unilateralism and protectionism, and safeguard developing countries' right to and space of development.

Saudi Arabia spent years planning for this summit - the first such time the oil-rich Middle Eastern country was on tap to host a G20 meeting - only to see its planned lavish celebrations upended by the pandemic and travel restrictions. "However, we will do our best to overcome this crisis through worldwide cooperation", he said, as de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman looked on.

"China is willing to strengthen cooperation with other countries in the research and development, production, and distribution of vaccines", Xi said.

"We need to show global solidarity", she said.

And denied the opportunity to take the traditional "family photo", a montage of G20 leaders was projected onto the ruins of the historical town of Diriyah during a gala event Friday.

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Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud said on Saturday that 2020 was an "extraordinary" year in light of the "unprecedented shock" caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasised that the world was facing a major economic crisis this year that could be comparable with the Great Depression of the Thirties.

G20 leaders said that while global economic activity has partially picked up thanks the gradual reopening of some economies, the recovery is uneven, highly uncertain and subject to downside risks.

"While containing the virus, we need to restore the secure and smooth operation of global industrial and supply chains".

"We may bridge differences through dialogue, resolve disputes through negotiation, and make a joint effort for world peace and development", Mr. Xi said in remarks in the backdrop of the over six-month-long military standoff between India and China in eastern Ladakh.

But the group's leaders face mounting pressure to help stave off possible credit defaults across developing nations.

Last week, its finance ministers declared a "common framework" for an extended debt restructuring plan for virus-ravaged countries, but campaigners say the measure is insufficient.

The statement released at the end of the summit also did not include a commitment to canceling poor countries' debt repayments through 2021, as Guterres has urged the G20 to do.

But some Western officials have indicated human rights will not be raised at the summit, saying they prefer to use bilateral forums to discuss the issue with the Saudi government.

"Instead of signalling its concern for Saudi Arabia's serious abuses, the G20 is bolstering the Saudi government's well-funded publicity efforts to portray the country as "reforming" despite a significant increase in repression", said Michael Page from Human Rights Watch.

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