For a Western official involved in preparations for next week’s G20 summit in India, the news that China’s President Xi Jinping would skip the event could only mean one thing: “They have been working all year to ensure ours.” to destroy joint work,” the official said. “Not participating is the obvious step.”
Xi’s decision to send Premier Li Qiang to the summit instead, which Western officials said was communicated to them by Chinese counterparts, has yet to be confirmed by Beijing.
But the Chinese president’s absence will be a blow to India’s rotating presidency of the multilateral meeting and the status of the summit in New Delhi. It also shakes the G20’s status as a preeminent global leadership forum, amid deep divisions among its members.
The decision follows months of failed efforts by the G20’s numerous ministerial forums to find common conclusions on issues ranging from health care to climate change, due to disagreements over the war in Ukraine and burden-sharing between rich and developing countries.
Some Indian observers are convinced that China wants to spoil India’s showpiece event at a time of bilateral tensions over the disputed border.
“China has been the biggest opponent of consensus on almost all issues,” said Indrani Bagchi, executive director of the Ananta Aspen Centre, an Indian think tank.
It will be the first time Xi or any other Chinese president has missed a G20 summit, a low point for a body created to find consensus among the world’s most powerful nations despite their social or economic differences.
Prime Minister Li is China’s second most senior leader and Xi’s right-hand man. But Josh Lipsky, senior director of the Washington-based Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Center, said the president’s absence calls into question the G20’s “long-term sustainable viability and success.”
US President Joe Biden (right) and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia last year © Saul Leob/AFP/Getty Images
“When the G20 speaks, are they speaking without China’s consent, for example on debt restructuring negotiations?” said Lipsky. “This is an existential threat to the future of the G20.”
At its first two summits in 2008 and 2009, held to forge a coordinated response to the global financial crisis, the G20 was hailed as the emerging premier international decision-making body, reflecting the growing importance and economic influence of the developing countries led by China .
Gordon Brown, who hosted the 2009 summit as British prime minister, said it was “a coming together of the world.”
But Russia’s break with the West, with the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the all-out war against Ukraine in February last year, fractured the unity of the G20 and the resulting global crisis, along with increasing tensions between the US and China In recent years the fault lines have sharpened between its developed and developing members.
The G20 managed to agree on an unexpected joint statement at the 2022 summit in Bali. But this year’s discussions under the Indian presidency have been marked by a seemingly unbridgeable divide between democracies and Russia and China over the war in Ukraine.
At meetings of G20 foreign ministers, finance chiefs and other officials, India has failed to obtain a single final statement agreed to by all members. Russia and China have repeatedly rejected statements condemning the war propagated by Western countries.
When asked about Xi’s absence, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday only that it would announce any travel plans at the “appropriate time.” Beijing this month rejected suggestions it had obstructed the G20 consensus on reducing climate emissions, saying it was “completely contrary to the facts”.
“China believes that the G20, as a leading forum for international economic cooperation, has important responsibilities in promoting global sustainable development, coordinating economic development and environmental protection, and combating climate change,” the ministry said.
But analysts said that while Xi initially likely viewed the G20 as a means of boosting China’s geopolitical influence, it has increasingly become a more sophisticated forum.
China’s relations with the US have deteriorated and countries such as Japan, South Korea, Germany and other European powers are taking a harder line.
“Over the last decade, many of the G20 member countries have toughened their positions toward China,” said Paul Haenle, director of Carnegie China, a think tank. “It’s a tough audience [Xi].”
US President Joe Biden said on Thursday he still hoped Xi would attend, a sign of the importance the White House places on global cooperation beyond the borders of the G7 group of most advanced economies.US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo meets Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang in Beijing on Tuesday © Andy Wong/Pool/Portal
But Xi’s absence will give Biden and other Western leaders a chance to make clear to developing countries that they are ready to step up their support with an economic offering that rivals China’s Belt and Road infrastructure development initiative.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said last month that the president viewed the New Delhi summit as “an opportunity for the United States and like-minded partners to present a value proposition, particularly for countries in the Global South.”
Xi’s planned absence is in stark contrast to his high-profile attendance at the Brics Group of developing countries summit in South Africa last week. At that summit, Xi led a push to expand the group, which Beijing sees as a rival to U.S.-led global forums, from five to 11 members.
“Xi’s decision not to attend is a blatant affront to Modi’s G20 leadership, but also highlights the real lack of cohesion among the Brics and undermines the hype surrounding the expanded Brics group,” said Daniel Price, a former government official by US President George W. Bush.
“The only [Brics] The common ground appears to be a desire to hedge against the dollar and U.S. leadership,” added Price, who was Bush’s summit Sherpa and now runs the consulting firm Rock Creek Global Advisors.
Chinese observers suggested that in addition to the Brics states, another venue friendlier to China than the G20 would be the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which also includes Russia and Central Asian countries.
But Haenle said Xi’s failure to attend the India summit would hurt China more than the G20.
“Instead of relieving pressure on the G20, it reduces China’s ability to shape the global agenda. The G20 will not go away,” he said.