World leaders attend Saudi-led G20 summit virtually

Leaders of the most powerful countries in the world will today come together in a “virtual” summit organized by the Saudi Arabia G20 presidency to tackle the accelerating coronavirus crisis.

The two-hour digital forum will be opened by King Salman in Riyadh, but will take in all the world’s great capitals in an unprecedented attempt to face the global challenge presented by the virus to health and economic well-being.

An official statement said that King Salman would chair the meeting “to advance a coordinated global response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its human and economic implications.” He will also close the proceedings.

Among world leaders expected to participate in the meeting — which will be held behind closed doors as is customary with G20 plenary gatherings — are US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the world’s two biggest economies. Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also take part.

A communique and press release will be published after it ends. The “sherpas” — the officials who work behind the scenes to get agreement on the wording of the final document — are believed to have already had preliminary discussions.

The G20 is usually a once-a-year event, but two meetings were held in each year of 2009 and 2010, at the height of the global financial crisis. It is a mark of how seriously leaders regard the virus threat that they have agreed to an “extraordinary” summit ahead of the formal scheduled gathering in Riyadh in November.

A virtual halt to international air travel meant that a physical meeting was impossible, and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Communications, working at short notice in partnership with US technology giant CISCO, rushed to put in place the technical logistics for the event.

The G20 is made up of the 19 biggest national economies in the world, with the EU taking the 20th slot. In addition, Spain — one of the worst virus-affected nations in Europe — will also take part in the Riyadh “virtual” summit, as well as Jordan, Singapore and Switzerland. The UAE will be represented as chair of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The World Health Organization, the UN, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are among the international organizations that will take part, as well as other development organizations.