Xi Jinping's Speculated Absence And Its Implications On The G20 Summit

“China doesn’t want India to be the voice of the Global South, or to be that country within the Himalayan region to be hosting this very successful G20 summit,” said Director of South Asia Initiatives at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) in New York, Farwa Aamer.

PM Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping

Chinese President Xi Jinping is likely to skip the upcoming G-20 summit in the capital, reported Reuters on Thursday.  A diplomat of Indian origin, based in China and an Indian official working for the government of another G-20 country, revealed that Premier Li Qiang is expected to substitute for Jinping, and represent Beijing at the summit in Delhi, on September 9 and 10.  “We are aware that the premier will come”, in place of Mr. Xi, an Indian government official told Reuters. The sources further informed that the reason for Jinping’s absence remains obscure, as per Chinese officials- who spoke on condition of anonymity, as they are not authorised to speak to the media. Spokespersons from the Indian and Chinese foreign ministries refused to comment. 

While the US President Joe Biden keeps his hopes up amid an ongoing-partially ratified buzz about the Chinese President skipping the summit in New Delhi, the sudden withdrawal has attracted much speculation. “I hope he attends” Biden told reporters on Thursday, although some US officials bid long odds on a Xi-Biden meeting in New Delhi.The officials suggest a more plausible scenario of the face off to happen at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, conference in San Francisco in November. 

Listed are some among the variegated speculations Xi's anticipated absence from the summit gave rise to:- 

Severed Indo-China Relations: Indo-China relations have worsened following the clash in the Himalayan Frontier in 2020, that resulted in 24 deaths. The situation along the border, in Ladakh continues to remain tense Although, President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a brief exchange on the sidelines of the BRICS meeting in Johannesburg, wherein, they discussed mitigating tensions in their bilateral relationships. The Sino-Indian border dispute is an ongoing territorial dispute between China and India, primarily over Aksai Chin- claimed by China as part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Tibet Autonomous Region, while India attributes it as a part of Ladakh. The other prominent area of dispute is Arunachal Pradesh, formerly known as the North-East Frontier Agency, as China refuses to acknowledge the McMahon Line- a part of the 1914 Simla Convention signed between British India and Tibet. 

The recent release of the 2023 ‘Standard Map’ by China, also, incidentally 12 days before the G-20 Summit was received with great indignation by not just India but also the South East Asian Countries.The ostensible map that outlined Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh as a part of China was labelled a ‘regular exercise’, while those bothered were advised to not ‘read too much into’. The map also claimed most of South China Sea, otherwise also shared by Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei.

This move has been perceived to be very strategic in terms of furthering the East- West ideological divide, wherein, China sides with an overbearing West’s constant efforts to mangle any development in the East. 

China’s Intentional Sabotage of G-20: China’s insecurity with India’s increasingly substantial visibility on Global Stage as the fastest growing economy, while China’s economic deceleration gets highlighted, has also been cited as a potential reason for Xi’s resistance.Xi Jinping opting out of the summit does not seem wary when viewed in consensus with China’s zero to negligible participation in the summit this far. China skipped at least two meetings of the summit, one in Arunachal Pradesh and another in Jammu and Kashmir- however, Jinping was present for the  2022 summit in Bali, and the BRICS meeting in Johannesburg. Moreover, the times China did participate, it was solely to support its allie Russia. A series of ministerial meetings, ahead of the G-20 summit were flagged by Russia and China together. The allies jointly opposed statements denouncing Moscow's invasion of Ukraine last year. China even objected to India’s G-20 motto- Vasudev Kutumbakam (the world is one family), citing that the motto was in Sanskrit, which is not listed as an official UN language. 

Director of South Asia Initiatives at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) in New York, Farwa Aamer, said Xi skipping the summit could be viewed as China posing “reluctant to cede the centre stage” to India.“China doesn’t want India to be the voice of the Global South, or to be that country within the Himalayan region to be hosting this very successful G-20 summit,” she said.

The Anticipated Xi-Biden Meeting:-  The summit was viewed as a pertinent venue for US President Joe Biden to cross paths with the Chinese President to assuage geopolitical tensions between the two superpowers. The meeting was highly anticipated, keeping in view the series of visits made by top US officials to Beijing in the recent months, including the Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo visit to the country earlier this week. Since, Russia and China, together aimed to curtail any possible discussion, development or criticism of the Russia’s unscrupulous invasion of Ukraine and considering that the war in Ukraine dominates the agenda of G-20 and has taken precedence over other discussions, Xi opting out in the absence of Putin is also a plausible reason.  In an interview with Wion, Dr Srikanth Kondapalli, Dean of School of International Studies and a Professor of China studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, suggested a seeming replication of the bifurcation among the G20 members as 18 vs 2(Russia and China) birthed in Bali, in New Delhi. Xi won’t be participating in the ASEAN Summit to be held in Indonesia from September 5 to 7, preceding the G-20 Summit either. 

Lastly, Xi's suspected withdrawal from the summit reduces the prospect of a US-China faceoff, coupled with Russia's absence it sabotages any potential development on the Ukraine war front. Nevertheless, the G-20 has worked through the year to fulfil other agendas including Climate financing, maintaining resselient supply chains, and the Global South countries' more equitable access to funding.