Marking a fresh setback to ties between the two Asian giants- China and India- Chinese President Xi Jinping was absent from the G20 summit this weekend in New Delhi. The decision marks a departure from his consistent attendance at the G20 summits since 2013, either online or physically.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on September 4, “Li Qiang will lead the Chinese delegation to attend the G20 summit. It’s a major and important global economic forum. China has always attached importance to it and actively participated in related events.” The statement came with no explanation about Xi’s non-attendance of the G20. Remember, the development comes weeks after Xi missed giving a speech at the BRICs summit in South Africa.
By avoiding the G20, some analysts suggested, Xi could be trying to sidestep uncomfortable conversations about several issues. Jon Finer, the U.S. deputy national security adviser on September 2, reacted by saying, “Some have speculated China’s absence indicates that it is giving up on the G20, building an alternative world order, that it will privilege groupings like the BRICS.” Even U.S. President Joe Biden expressed his disappointment at Beijing’s absence.
There are some suspicions that his absence is a deliberate snub of the summit’s host, India, with China having increasingly frosty relations. The fact that the G20 host countries India and China have been at a crossroads since the last decade is not alien to the world now. The previous three years have proven to be tumultuous for the Asian Giants due to the dispute at the Himalayan Border. The long-running standoff in the rugged Himalayan area has led to each side stationing tens of thousands of military personnel backed by artillery, tanks, and fighter jets.
On August 28, New Delhi also criticized China for including India’s territories in its new map. This week, India is staging military exercises near the Chinese border, which will continue through the summit. Reports say Xi Jinping is increasingly frustrated with partnerships like Quad and G20 for pushing back on its military expansion.
According to a report released by an Indian publication, Live Mint, on September 8, India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, is reportedly studying potential responses to a hypothetical Chinese invasion of Taiwan, as said by senior Indian government officials. Frictions between the two have also arisen over trade, technology, and investment and India’s growing strategic ties with China’s main rival, the United States.
The Economic Times said, in a report on September 8, that Xi’s absence can also be attributed to infighting between the top political tier of the crisis-stricken country. The publication refers to the recent Beidaihe meeting, where retired party elders reprimanded Xi and questioned his leadership. This means Xi missed the G20 summit to ‘avoid losing face.’ The growing political, economic, and social turmoil and anger at how authorities dealt with it have pressured Xi’s leadership.
Some analysts state that China might have avoided the G20 summit to show solidarity with Putin due to increasing pressure from Moscow not to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia, subject to an international criminal court warrant for war crimes, is also not attending the summit in New Delhi.
Despite these speculations of tense ties between the two nations, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning on September 8 said Chinese leaders have “always supported India’s hosting of this year’s summit and are ready to work with all parties to make the G20 Summit a success”. India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, told the ANI news agency on September 6 that Xi’s absence wouldn’t affect the bloc’s ability to produce a communiqué.