All eyes on Osaka as Japan sets ambitious G20 agenda

US President Donald Trump’s motorcade gets a low-key reception on the eve of the Osaka G20 summit. The forum takes place amid heightened tensions in the Gulf and a bitter US-China trade war. (AFP)
Updated 28 June 2019

All eyes on Osaka as Japan sets ambitious G20 agenda

  • Issues to be tackled range from sustainable growth and trade reform to the digital economy and aging populations
  • Next year, the G20 summit will be held in an Arab country for the first time, with Saudi Arabia as host

JEDDAH: World leaders meeting in the Japanese city of Osaka for the 14th Group of Twenty (G20) summit will focus on issues concerning trade, demographics, the environment and the digital economy.

Japan’s third-largest city rolled out the red carpet for dignitaries attending the two-day forum on June 28-29.

Preparations had been underway for months for the event, which coincides with a heated US-China trade dispute as well as heightened tensions in the Gulf region, source of most of the world’s oil supplies.

The G20 summit has become the most anticipated global gathering since the club’s heads of state met in November 2008 to discuss the international financial crisis. Informal chats between leaders and bilateral sideline meetings will attract as much attention as the main proceedings.

Last month, policy recommendations developed by a Japanese task force were unveiled for consideration by the G20 leaders who are currently meeting in Osaka. They are intended to enable the member countries to implement the ambitious agenda set by Japan as the new G20 president.

The summit will focus broadly on four topics: Promoting strong, sustainable and balanced growth; greater provision of international public goods and resilience; digitalization of the economy; and aging populations.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives in Osaka to join world leaders attending the G20 summit. (AFP)

“Maintaining continuity and coherence with the previous discussion is very important,” Koji Tomita, the Japanese government’s representative to the G20 Summit, told Arab News, referring to last year’s meeting in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires.

“We believe Argentina did a great job on many points. Osaka will take place just six months after the Buenos Aires summit, so continuity will be more important than usual. We would like to point to two specific areas where we want to deepen the discussion that we had in Buenos Aires on trade.”

Tomita said that doubts about the benefits of globalization, which have been blamed for protectionist movements worldwide and the US-China tariff wars, will not be allowed to “hijack” the discussions in Osaka. However, reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will be high on the agenda.

Depending on global economic financial concerns, each chair country’s task force incorporates a combination of regional and global issues into the summit agenda. In the run-up to Osaka, ministerial-level meetings and conferences of eight engagement groups have produced a number of recommendations, policy briefs and communiques.

“WTO reform is an urgent task because if you look at the situation with the global economy, it is obvious that trade tensions are starting to weigh heavily on growth prospects,” Tomita said. “The issue goes straight to the heart of G20’s mission, which is to maintain sustainable growth.”

The summit will take place at Osaka’s International Exhibition Center, or Intex, on the city’s waterfront, while world leaders will be hosted in the city’s northern Umeda area.

Officials of Osaka prefecture explained to Arab News last month how they planned to accommodate the 30,000 members of 37 different delegations expected to descend on the city in the run-up to the summit.

All 13 five-star hotels in Osaka are expected to be filled to capacity, but this does not mean life in the city will grind to a halt. Authorities have increased public transport capacity to ensure that the streets are clear for VIP traffic during the summit.


• 20 - Permanent member states

• 17 Invited guest countries and organizations

• 6.4% - Saudi Arabia’s share of total G20 forex reserves

• 80% - G20 members’ share of global GDP

Takashi Harada, assistant secretary-general at the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and secretariat for the G20 Summit, said the organizers had three key objectives: Providing security for leaders taking part in the summit; ensuring a comfortable stay for visitors; and promoting Japan, particularly Osaka and the Kansai area, to an international audience.

“Osaka deserves to host the G20 meeting. It is a highly traditional city with a thousand-year history,” Harada said.

Osaka’s unique and diverse culture differs from that of Japan’s capital, Tokyo. In addition to being the capital of Japanese comedy and the country’s “kitchen,” Osaka is spearheading Japan’s transformation from a homogenous society to a diverse one. The city is the gateway to opening Japan to the world, Harada told Arab News.

Tomita said: “The G20 has a tradition of working in a troika. The present chair is assisted by the previous chair and the next chair.” This system was adopted at the G20 summit in Cannes, France, in 2011, with the three chairs working together to ease the transition process.

The G20 summit will be held in an Arab country for the first time in 2020, with Saudi Arabia as host — a decision that was announced at the end of the 2017 meeting in Hamburg and confirmed via the final communique in Buenos Aires.

The Riyadh summit’s agenda is expected to include financial to social issues. Saudi Arabia is due to unveil its taskforce later this year, after Japan’s presidency comes to an official end and the baton is passed to the Kingdom.

“Saudi Arabia is fully committed to the G20’s objectives and to the stability and prosperity of the international economic system,” said a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency in April.

Tomita said: “We have already been working with the Saudi and the Argentine teams, so the troika is a driving force behind the preparation for the summit in Osaka.

“I had the pleasure of traveling to Riyadh recently. I visited the secretariat for next year’s summit and, quite frankly, I was extremely impressed with the resources Saudi Arabia is investing in the preparation for the summit.” 


Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 July 2019

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.

The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.