Osaka G20 summit communique: A ‘work of diplomatic art’

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) shaking hands with US President Donald Trump during their meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan. (AFP Photo / Saudi Royal Palace / Bandar Al-Jaloud)
Updated 30 June 2019

Osaka G20 summit communique: A ‘work of diplomatic art’

  • The Osaka declaration distills the views of 20-plus political leaders into a display of unanimity
  • The statement goes some way towards meeting Japan's wish to show unity and compromise

OSAKA: G20 leaders’ declarations — known as “the communique” — are precise works of diplomatic skill, knitted together painstakingly by the “sherpas” who work behind the scenes to distill the often conflicting views of 20-plus political leaders into a single cohesive display of unanimity. The risk is that they can try to satisfy so many different opinions that they end up as meaningless waffle.

The final communique issued in Osaka on Saturday went some way toward meeting the Japanese hosts’ wish to show unity and compromise, while retaining the substance of the diverging viewpoints on show at the G20. “It was a work of diplomatic art,” said a media professional at the event.

The leaders met, the communique read, “to make united efforts to address major global economic challenges. We will work together to foster global economic growth, while harnessing the power of technological innovation, in particular digitalization, and its application for the benefit of all.”
Nobody could argue with that, except that it gives no flavor of the disagreements over trade, inequality and climate change that were features of the two-day event. That came in the fine detail of the 7,000 word statement.
On the global economy, for example, the leaders observed that “growth remains low and risks remain tilted to the downside,” and reiterated their commitment to do everything in the policy-maker’s book to establish a “virtuous cycle” of growth.
But you had to read down to see that one big reason for the worrying global outlook was the on-off trade war between the US and China.
“We strive to realize a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open,” the leaders said — a position that would make the Chinese and Europeans happy.
But there had to be something too for Donald Trump’s US, which dislikes the World Trade Organization (WTO) and threatens to use tariffs as an instrument of foreign policy. “We reaffirm our support for the necessary reform of the WTO to improve its functions,” the communique said in a sop to the Americans.
“We agree that action is necessary regarding the functioning of the dispute settlement system consistent with the rules as negotiated by WTO members.”
There was a similar fudge in the section on data, one of the big themes of the G20. The Europeans and Americans are all for the free flow of information across borders via the Internet; the big Asian powers are keener on security of data and citizens’ information.
“Cross-border flow of data, information, ideas and knowledge generates higher productivity, greater innovation, and improved sustainable development, while raising challenges related to privacy, data protection, intellectual property rights, and security,” the leaders agreed, but they also noted that “the value of an ongoing discussion on security in the digital economy is growing.”
Inequality — of demographics and gender — is another theme that divides the leaders, but the communique managed to please everybody with an ambitious but bland commitment to “promote decent work and reaffirm our commitment to take actions to eradicate child labor, forced labor, human trafficking and modern slavery in the world of work, including through fostering sustainable global supply chains.”
But it was perhaps the section on “realizing an inclusive and sustainable world” that had to make the most twists and turns to keep everybody happy.
It reaffirmed the global predilection for economic growth and development, but simultaneously said that growth had to be sustainable to “ensure that no one is left behind.” The communique repeated its pledges on African development and investment, as well as the promotion of global health and medical investment.


Argentina — 2018

Japan — 2019

Saudi Arabia — 2020

Italy — 2021

India — 2022

On climate change — perhaps the second most divisive issue at the G20 after trade — the sherpas had worked hard to make sure nobody stormed out in a fit of anger.
“We emphasize the importance of providing financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in accordance with the Paris Agreement,” the leaders agreed, thereby pacifying the French President Emmanuel Macron, who had threatened to refuse to sign the document unless it mentioned the Paris accords on global warming.
The Americans under Trump, of course, have said they will leave the Paris deal. So, to balance things up, the leaders included a lengthy section on how good the Americans really are on climate and the environment.
“The US’s balanced approach to energy and environment allows for the delivery of affordable, reliable, and secure energy to all its citizens while utilizing all energy sources and technologies, including clean and advanced fossil fuels and technologies, renewables, and civil nuclear power, while also reducing emissions and promoting economic growth. The United States is a world leader in reducing emissions,” the communique said.
Finally, one of the initiatives that Japan was especially proud of at the G20 was the “Osaka Blue Ocean Vision” to stop marine pollution, especially by the plastics industry. That got a big mention toward the end.
The sherpas will be back at their craft next year in Saudi Arabia, followed by Italy and then India.


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.