Chinese President Xi Jinping’s conspicuous absence from the upcoming G20 summit in New Delhi, scheduled for September 9 and 10, has ignited significant speculation and raised pertinent questions regarding the global economic forum.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry disclosed on Monday that the Chinese Premier, Li Qiang, would represent China at the summit, marking Xi’s second non-participation in this influential forum. Previously, Xi skipped the summit in 2021, citing the exigencies of the Covid-19 pandemic as a rationale for his absence. His non-presence this time carries more profound political implications due to the G20’s pivotal role as the foremost economic congregation globally.
The G20 emerged as a crucible of economic discourse during the international financial crisis of 2008, bringing together the most influential economies to deliberate on global trajectories. Consequently, the absence of the leader of the world’s second-largest economy at this preeminent economic gathering assumes immense significance.
Another notable absentee is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, since February 2022, has been embroiled in the Ukraine conflict. His non-participation, following his absence at the Bali summit in November 2022, underscores the geopolitical challenges surrounding the G20.
Xi’s absence becomes even more poignant considering the strained relations between India, the host of the G20 summit and the incumbent G20 President, and China. India has consistently linked the prolonged border standoff in eastern Ladakh, which witnessed casualties on both sides, to the state of bilateral relations, characterizing it as “abnormal.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his second face-to-face interaction with Xi, conveyed India’s concerns to the Chinese President. Despite India’s assertion that the leaders had mandated swift disengagement, China did not echo this sentiment in their statement, revealing a stark discord between the two nations. Consequently, Xi’s non-participation in the G20 is viewed as a manifestation of the deep-seated rift in bilateral ties.
Xi’s absence also threatens to disrupt the consensus on the G20 communique, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict serving as a contentious issue. Over the past nine months, since India assumed the G20 Presidency, divisions have persisted, with Russia and China resisting the language used in the Bali declaration, while Western powers, led by the G7, have pushed for its reaffirmation. This discord has polarized the G20, jeopardizing the consensus on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Though Chinese Premier Li is attending the summit, the delegation’s negotiating prowess may be diminished compared to what Xi could have offered. Furthermore, any compromise formulation will necessitate Xi’s approval, constraining the Chinese delegation’s latitude.
Xi’s non-participation could also carry political repercussions, as the adage goes, “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.” The G20, comprising the world’s most formidable economies, shapes global norms, and provides strategic direction on global issues. By abstaining from participation and sending a subordinate leader, Xi relinquishes the opportunity to influence the international order, possibly signaling a divergence from the “rules-based order.”
New Delhi has sought to downplay Xi’s absence, advising against overinterpreting it. Citing the 2021 G20 Summit in Italy, where six countries attended below the Head of State/Head of Government level, Indian officials argue that such occurrences do not reflect on the host country. However, Xi’s absence cannot be dissociated from the evident chill between the host and guest nations, possibly exacerbating already frigid relations.
In summary, Xi Jinping’s non-participation in the upcoming G20 summit casts a shadow of uncertainty over the consensus-building process within the forum, underscoring the complex geopolitical dynamics at play on the global stage.