Nudged by India, G20 to hold virtual summit on COVID-19

Prodded by PM Modi, Saudi King now set to convene virtual G20 summit on COVID-19

Unidentified guests attend a meeting of Finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20 nations in the Saudi capital Riyadh on February 23, 2020. (AFP Photo)

Nudged by India, Saudi Arabia has started contacting other G20 nations to convene an extraordinary virtual summit of the bloc to work out "a coordinated response" to the COVID-19 pandemic and its "human and economic implications".  

Two days after holding a video conference with his counterparts in other SAARC nations on the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday called up Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to suggest a similar virtual summit of the G20 leaders. Hours after the two leaders discussed the proposal over the phone, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Saudi Arabian government said early on Wednesday that Riyadh was “communicating” with other G20 nations to convene the extraordinary virtual summit.

"The G20 will act, alongside international organisations, in any way deemed necessary to alleviate the impact of the pandemic," the Saudi Arabian government said. "(The) G20 leaders will put forward a coordinated set of policies to protect people and safeguard the global economy."

Saudi Arabia currently holds the chair of the G20 (or the Group of Twenty) – the premier forum for international economic cooperation. PM Modi conveyed to Mohammed bin Salman (a.k.a MbS) that his father and King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who now holds the presidency of the G20, should convene a video conference of the leaders of the bloc to work out a strategy not only to contain the COVID-19 outbreak but also to manage the economic fallout of the pandemic.

During his talks with Saudi Arabian King's heir apparent, Prime Minister emphasised on the need for coordinated efforts "to adequately address the global challenge" posed by the outbreak, which impacted "not only the health and well-being of several hundred thousand people but also threatened to adversely affect the economy in many parts of the world."

Modi told the Saudi Crown Prince about his recent initiative to hold a video-conference with other leaders of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) nations.

The Prime Minister and the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia agreed that "similar exercise at the level of (the) G20 leaders", under the aegis of Saudi Arabia as the Chair of G20, would be "useful at a global scale, both for discussing specific measures to address the challenges posed by the global outbreak of COVID-19 and also to instil confidence in the global populace," according to a statement the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) issued in New Delhi after the two leaders spoke over the phone.

Modi and MbS decided that the officials of India and Saudi Arabia would remain in close contact in this regard, Raveesh Kumar, the spokesperson of the MEA, said.

The regular G20 summit is scheduled to be held in Riyadh in November.

"The summit will build on the ongoing efforts of the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, senior health, trade and foreign affairs officials to further develop the precise requirements and actions needed," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabian government said. "The Saudi presidency (of the G20) will continue to support and coordinate international efforts to counter the impact of the pandemic, both in human and economic terms."

The G20 comprises 19 nations – both developed and developing – and the European Union.

The virtual summit will bring together PM Modi, United States' President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the leaders of 11 other nations and the European Union to discuss ways to respond to the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Macron, Trump and other leaders of the G7 – a bloc comprising seven advanced economies designated so by the International Monetary Fund - already held a video conference on Monday to coordinate responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the world economy.

Prime Minister last Friday proposed to hold a video conference with the leaders of the other SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) nations to chalk out a strategy to contain the pandemic in the region. The video-conference was held on Sunday, with PM Modi being joined by Prime Minister Lotay Tshering of Bhutan, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli of Nepal, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of Maldives and President M Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan. Pakistan was represented by Prime Minister Imran Khan's Special Assistant on Health Affairs, Dr Zafar Mirza.

PM  Modi proposed to set up a SAARC Emergency Response Fund for COVID-19, with an initial $10 million contribution from India. He also proposed follow-up discussions between medical professionals of the SAARC region, as well as trade and economic officials, to further assess the impact of the pandemic. India offered to deploy its specially-constituted Rapid Response Teams of medical and other professionals, and testing equipment, to any SAARC country.

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