Lost in Arrivals: A reporter's Osaka G20 summit diary

Leaders attend a meeting on the digital economy at the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 29 June 2019

Lost in Arrivals: A reporter's Osaka G20 summit diary

  • The G20 meeting's location is a vast mix of industrial estate, exhibition centre and hotel complex built on reclaimed land
  • The organizers of the world's most anticipated global gathering had banned taxis from the Osaka airport arrival terminal

‘Strangers in a foreign land, the two find escape, distraction and understanding” in Japan, according to the blurb for the 2003 Oscar-winning movie Lost in Translation.
I and my travel companion — sadly not Scarlett Johansson — took quite a long time to find anything at Kansai airport on a squally, wet night ahead of the G20 summit in the city of Osaka.
With the most powerful people in the world all heading there with their huge entourages, the organizers of the summit decided — on perfectly sound security grounds, I’m sure — to ban taxis from the airport arrival terminal.
The helpful lady at the airport information desk advised me to take a train, and handed me a map of the city’s transport system. It looked like the electrical wiring circuit for NASA mission control in Houston, but with not a word of English on it. I declined.
After a humid couple of hours in the airport terminal, our problem was solved, thanks to the intervention of the Saudi delegation in the city who took pity and sent a car to pick us up. We were on our way, in the fuzzy, sleepwalking way induced by a 10-hour overnight flight and the kind of culture shock the Bill Murray character suffered in Lost in Translation.
Osaka probably has some beautiful areas. I look forward to seeing the 16th-century shogunate castle, for example. But the airport drive is through miles of light industrial facilities, the occasional gigantic steel works, and uniformly drab residential developments.
That night passed in the jet-lagged haze the French call a “nuit blanche,” interrupted by phone calls from various people in the Middle East who hadn’t cottoned on to the five-hour time difference.
Bleary-eyed the following morning, it was time to embark on what I had anticipated would be the most demanding part of the two-day power extravaganza: getting media accreditation.
The problem was that to get inside the security cordon around the Intex center where the G20 was being held, you needed a lanyard and a badge. But the collection center for these essential documents was — you guessed it — inside the security cordon.
I solved that problem by hiring a traditional Osaka taxi driver, complete with white gloves and antimacassars, to take me to the venue.
How could the security forces suspect such a reassuring figure of anything sinister? My reasoning was sound — with much bowing of heads we sailed through the cordon.
The Intex complex is a vast mix of industrial estate, exhibition center and hotel complex built on reclaimed land in the shallow waters of Osaka Bay. The media hall for the G20 is a cavernous aircraft hanger of a building, a good 2km walk from the main entrance. It reminded me of an Ikea store, but without the Scandinavian charm.
I had made it anyway, and straight down to business. The opening press conference of the day was from the European Union, represented by EU Council president Donald Tusk and Jean Claude Junker, head of the Commission.
It was immediately obvious that the “Lost in Translation” theme had occurred to the two EU men too. Tusk revealed that “due to jet lag” he had read every word of the big exclusive interview the Financial Times had carried that morning with President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
“What I really object to are authoritarianism, personality cults and the role of oligarchs,” Tusk said. I wonder who he could have been referring to.
Junker appeared equally jet-lagged so early in the morning. He had strongly disagreed with Putin’s view that liberal democracy was an outdated concept, and stuck up for the libertarian multiculturalism the EU represents.
With a press conference under my belt by 10am, it has been a surreal few hours. I thought for one brief moment I caught a glimpse of Scarlett walking through the Intex complex but was probably hallucinating by then.

Frank Kane is an award-winning journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai


Space program to establish national training base

Updated 18 February 2020

Space program to establish national training base

  • The program also aims to create a prosperous educational environment in the Kingdom by establishing a stimulating and enabling environment for the space sector to be a platform that launches economic and scientific paths

RIYADH: The Space Generations Program (Ajyal) launched by the Saudi Space Commission will contribute towards establishing a national base for human capital in the space sector, said Abdul Aziz Al Al-Sheikh, CEO of the Saudi Space Commission.

The program, he said, encourages interest in scientific research and learning various sciences in the areas of innovation: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM).

Al-Sheikh added that the program was striving to cooperate with specialized academic circles to achieve further progress in research related to space science and its applications.

The program also aims to create a prosperous educational environment in the Kingdom by establishing a stimulating and enabling environment for the space sector to be a platform that launches economic and scientific paths.

“We derive our inspiration from the experience of Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, chairman of the board of directors of the Saudi Space Commission, and his team, who were passionate, creative and determined to reach space,” said Al-Sheikh.

He added that the scientific team that supported the prince’s journey included a group of scientists as well as the most skilled technicians, designers and creative thinkers who contributed to achieving this dream.

The CEO said that the success of the trip was a result of the efforts of the entire team. “The Saudi Space Commission seeks to form a similar dream team that contributes to achieving our ambitious vision for the future of the space sector in the Kingdom,” he added.

Director general of the Space Generations Program, Ilham Al-Harbi, explained that the program had a comprehensive set of goals and strategic visions that aim to instill inspiration in generations to achieve leadership in space science.

She said that the program also aimed to build and develop future generations of Saudi space scientists and turn their dreams into a reality.