It’s Official, Chinese Prez Xi Won’t Attend G20 Summit. Bilateral Ties Could ‘Strain’ Further

G20 Summit India: In an unprecedented move, a Chinese President will not be attending the G20 Summit for the first time ever since the grouping was upgraded to the level of Heads of State or Heads of Government in 2008. On Monday, China announced that it will be sending its Premier, a level much below the President, to attend the G20 Summit that will be held under India’s presidency on September 9 and 10. On a bilateral level, Xi’s absence is expected to further put a “strain” in an already fraught relationship, multiple sources told ABP Live.

Just four days before the summit, the Chinese Foreign Ministry Monday said Premier Li Qiang will attend the meeting in New Delhi. “Premier Li Qiang will lead a delegation to the New Delhi G20 Summit in India … At the invitation of the government of the Republic of India, Premier of the State Council Li Qiang will attend the 18th G20 Summit to be held in New Delhi, India on September 9 and 10,” China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said.

Asked about China’s expectations from the G20 Summit in India, Mao said, “As the world economy experiences more downward pressure and challenges grow for global sustainable development, it is important that the G20, being the premier forum for international economic cooperation, strengthen partnership and rise up to the big challenges facing global economy and development so as to contribute to world economic recovery and growth and global sustainable development.”

She added: “We hope the New Delhi summit will form consensus on that, send out a message of confidence, and promote shared prosperity and development.”

The statements made by her made it amply clear that Xi will indeed not be coming to India even though she did not mention it explicitly despite being repeatedly asked by reporters, who were attending the spokesperson’s media briefing Monday, to give a reason for Xi’s absence.

‘A Loss For China’

The absence of the leader of China in this year’s summit has put a question mark on the importance Beijing attaches to the G20 as a grouping, diplomatic sources told ABP Live.

The fact that President Xi could attend the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit, all the way in Johannesburg, South Africa, recently on August 22-24 but is not coming to India is an indication of the fact that China is “not serious” about the grouping, the sources added.

“The G20 is an important forum for international economic cooperation. China has all along attached great importance to and taken an active part in G20 events. During this year’s G20 Summit, Premier Li Qiang will share China’s views and propositions on G20 cooperation, and promote greater solidarity and cooperation among G20 countries and joint response to global economic and development challenges. We are ready to work with all parties to make the G20 Summit a success and contribute to the steady recovery of the global economy and sustainable development,” said Mao.

The G20 Summit is held annually under the leadership of a rotating presidency. The G20 Presidency is responsible for bringing together the G20 agenda in consultation with other members and in response to developments in the global economy. To ensure continuity, the presidency is supported by a ‘troika’ made up of the current, immediate past and next host countries.

During India’s Presidency, the members of the G20 troika are Indonesia, India and Brazil. The G20 Summit in 2024 will be held in Brasilia.

Ashok Kantha, veteran diplomat and former Ambassador of India to China, told ABP Live: “President’s Xi absence from the summit does not mean China is attaching less importance to the G20 or it wants to leave the grouping. That is clearly not the case since their Premier is coming, although the level is much lower compared to the President, in the Chinese system. But yes, this much is clear that President Xi will like to attend those forums where China has a more central role.”

He added: “This is a loss for China as they will not be able to fully utilise the G20 and it can create a quantum gap. Sending the Premier does not help. It is Xi who is the supreme leader.”

The G20 was upgraded to the level of Heads of State/Government in the wake of the global economic and financial crisis of 2007, and in 2009, when it became apparent that the necessary crisis coordination would only be possible at the highest political level. Since then, the G20 leaders have met regularly, and the multilateral forum has become the premier platform for international economic cooperation.

So far, US President Joe Biden turned out to be the only leader who reacted to the development and said he was “disappointed” that President Xi is not going to be at the summit in person. However, Biden and Xi are expected to meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit scheduled to be held in San Francisco in November. Both leaders had last met in Bali.

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India-China Ties Likely To Come Under Further ‘Strain’

The fact that President Xi is giving a miss to the G20 Summit that is being held under India’s chairmanship is a reflection on the state of bilateral ties between New Delhi and Beijing. The bilateral relationship has already come under considerable distress ever since both sides locked themselves in a major military standoff that witnessed bloodshed for the first time since 1975, at the Galwan river valley on the intervening night of June 15-16, resulting in the killing of 20 Indian soldiers by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

By not coming to India for the G20 Summit, China has sought to send a “strong signal” to New Delhi that it is not going to relent at the border areas too, said a source.

Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force (IAF) began carrying out a mega war drill in the border areas with China and Pakistan on Monday, which will go on till September 14. Operation Trishul will see participation of major fleets of fighter aircraft of the IAF including the Rafale, Mirage 2000 and the Su-30MKIs.

“Xi has attended all G20 Summit since 2013. So his not coming to India is not routine. This is a message. Although his visit here would not have resulted in a breakthrough in the India-China border standoff, this is clearly an indication of the fact that the bilateral relationship is not doing well. It’s a signal,” stressed Kantha.

Xi was expected to visit India earlier this year during the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which was also held under India’s presidency on July 4. But the Chinese President could not come at that time as India changed the format to virtual mode at the last moment.

Both Modi and Xi met on the margins of the BRICS Summit in South Africa when they directed their respective officials for an “expeditious” disengagement and de-escalation of troops at the LAC. During the brief conversation in South Africa, Modi had told Xi that the “maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas and observing and respecting the LAC are essential for the normalisation of the India-China relationship”.

While President Xi will not be present in New Delhi in person, it does not rule out the fact that Beijing will place hurdles in the way of the joint statement, or Delhi Declaration. China, along with Russia, have made it clear that they will not give their consent for the G20 joint statement, or Delhi Declaration, if the issue of Ukraine war is mentioned in the communique. But both these countries had agreed to it during the last G20 Summit that took place in Bali, Indonesia.

India is holding the G20 Presidency at a time when the Russia-Ukraine war has gone on for 18 months and the strategic competition between US and China have intensified.

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Nayanima Basu

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