In an audacious diplomatic maneuver, China has chosen to convey deliberate signals to India and the Western world by conspicuously abstaining from the G-20 summit. This unprecedented absence from a pivotal international forum has raised eyebrows and speculation among experts, including current and former officials, and individuals well-versed in Beijing’s inner workings.
Analysts contend that China’s calculated decision to skip the summit serves as a stark manifestation of its discontentment. This dissatisfaction is attributed to several factors, primarily encompassing the present state of bilateral relations with India. New Delhi’s unwavering stance, demanding the restoration of peace along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as a prerequisite for the normalization of broader diplomatic ties, appears to have irked Beijing.
Furthermore, China has vociferously voiced its disapproval of what it deems the “politicization” of the G-20. According to China, this prestigious platform should confine itself to economic matters and refrain from entangling itself in issues such as the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Regrettably, Beijing has not proffered any explanation for President Xi Jinping’s surprising choice to forego the summit. When probed regarding whether tensions with India influenced this decision, the Chinese Foreign Ministry deflected, implying that there were alternative motives. It affirmed China’s enduring commitment to significant activities and affirmed support for India’s hosting of the G-20 summit. The spokesperson, Mao Ning, reaffirmed that China-India relations had maintained stability, with ongoing dialogues at various levels. This message was capped with a pledge to enhance bilateral relations in concert with India.
The former Indian Ambassador to China, Ashok Kantha, expressed his bewilderment at this development. He noted that President Xi had consistently attended previous G-20 summits, except for the 2021 Rome summit, which he joined virtually. Furthermore, Xi had recently traveled to South Africa for the BRICS summit, effectively dispelling concerns of health issues.
Kantha posited that this extraordinary move was laden with implicit messages. Firstly, it signifies China’s discontent with the prevailing bilateral dynamics, sending a signal that the relationship is far from optimal. Secondly, it reflects China’s qualms about the G-20 as a platform. China appears to be averring that it is uncomfortable with the present structure of international affairs and is unwilling to go the extra mile to amend the situation.
China’s disquiet is exacerbated by the contrasting environments in other international forums. For instance, sources intimate that Xi would have almost certainly attended a physical SCO summit in India. Given the strategic importance China assigns to the China and Russia-backed SCO, this decision stands in stark contrast to the G-20. Interestingly, India opted for a virtual SCO summit, despite initial plans for a physical gathering in New Delhi.
The delegation of responsibility in the Chinese hierarchy during international meetings follows a structured protocol. Typically, the President serves as the Head of State (HoS) and attends the G-20 and APEC Summit. President Xi is expected to journey to the United States in November for the latter. Conversely, the Premier usually participates in the East Asia Summit, as Premier Li Qiang is currently doing in Indonesia before proceeding to New Delhi. Both the President and Premier attend the SCO, where separate meetings convene for HoS and Head of Government.
In essence, this extraordinary move represents a meticulously calculated decision that diverges from routine practice and underscores China’s evolving stance on the global stage.