China will send its Premier, Li Qiang, to the G-20 summit in New Delhi next weekend, instead of President Xi Jinping, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced yesterday. The absence of the Chinese leader, the first since he came to power (apart from meetings held during the covid pandemic), is seen as a blow to India's rotating presidency and a disdain for the forum that brings together the largest economies on the planet, namely 19 countries and the European Union. It also ruins the possibility of a meeting with US President Joe Biden, with whom he was seen on the sidelines of the last meeting in Bali in November.
The gesture by the leader of the Asian giant comes after months in which the bloc has not issued a joint statement, because it is deeply divided over what language should be used to refer to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While China opposes blaming Moscow for the war, Western countries, including the United States, France and Canada, have called for strong condemnation as a necessary condition for signing the document. Western leaders hoped the summit would be an opportunity for India and China to get tougher on Vladimir Putin.
Xi's snub - which is added to the absence of his Russian counterpart, who has an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (the foreign minister will attend) - takes place two weeks after the BRICS summit , a group that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, where the Chinese leader did attend. At the meeting of the club of the main emerging economies, approval was given to the next accession of six new countries -Argentina, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates-. China has been the main driver of this expansion as a counterweight to the dominance of the United States and the West.
"The fact that Xi is skipping the Western-dominated G-20 club right after attending the Brics summit may be a visual illustration of Xi's narrative that 'the East is rising and the West is falling' ', and also a show of solidarity with Russian President Putin", pointed out Australian National University political scientist Wen Ti Sung to Reuters.
None of this was interpreted in the words offered yesterday by Chinese Foreign Affairs spokesman Mao Ning: "We are willing to work with all parties to jointly promote the success of the G-20 summit and actively contribute to promote stable global economic recovery and sustainable development", it said in a statement.
Despite the good intentions, analysts point out that while Xi Jinping saw the first summits of G-20 heads of state, initiated after the 2008 global financial crisis, as an opportunity to increase his influence, efforts 'have been hampered by growing rivalry with the United States and its allies, such as Japan, South Korea, Germany and other European countries. "Many of the countries that are members of the G-20 have hardened their positions on China. It's a difficult audience for Xi," said the director of the Carnegie China think tank, Paul Haenle, in the Financial Times.
Xi's absence from the G-20 meeting can also be read as a disregard for the host country. India is one of the fastest growing large economies, while China is slowing down. Relations between the two countries have been problematic since three years ago soldiers from both sides clashed on the disputed Himalayan border in June 2020, which resulted in 24 deaths.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for his part, wants to act as a mediator to reach consensus and, from his self-declared position as the leader of the Global South, to rise as a power leader among his historic ally, Moscow , and its emerging ally, Washington. That is why Modi is trying to de-emphasize the conflict in Ukraine in order to prevent the issue from breaking an agreement within the bloc.
"India is not ready to use the word 'war' in the G-20 final communiqué" because of its good relations with Russia, as it continues to buy cheap Russian oil and depends on its arms industry, explained the member of the Foreign Relations Council, Manjari Chatterjee Miller, to Efe. Focusing on the concerns of the developing world instead of war “could be a mechanism through which some kind of consensus can be created. And I think that would be the goal at the G-20 summit."