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Yes, No, Maybe: Did Xi Jinping Use G20 Summit Invitation to Push China's Agenda?

Chinese President Xi Jinping's absence will be the first time he has skipped the G20 Summit since he came to power.

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Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma, Karuna Mishra

The G20 Summit in New Delhi next week will be a star-studded event, featuring the likes of US President Joe Biden, France’s Emmanuel Macron, and PM Narendra Modi coming together on the same stage.

However, the summit will noticeably miss a few familiar faces. Most notably, Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is skipping G20 for the first time since he came to power in 2013.

The G20 Summit has always been an important pillar of Beijing’s foreign policy, who use it as a platform for the occasional strategic talks with Xi’s counterparts.

However, the Chinese President Xi’s behavior with the G20 Summit’s invitation and is a regular tactic used by Beijing’s textbook to continue a push to achieve their diplomatic goals.

While skipping a meeting such as the G20 summit is not uncommon, Xi Jinping skipping the G20 in India is no “casual affair.”

The Quint explains why.

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Why Would Xi Skip the G20 Summit? 

Back in 2020, violent clashes between Indian and Chinese troops left at least 20 Indian forces dead, and control over the 2,100-mile Line of Actual Control continues to spur heated disagreement after 19 rounds of high-level talks between the two.

Xi's absence could be a snub to the host country and President of the G20 Summit in 2023, India, amid the almost deadlocked border dispute talks.

Talking about how "Xi's abstention could cast a shadow on Modi's moment under the diplomatic sun," journalist SNM Abdi recently noted in an article for The Quint:

"Beijing is determined to undermine in every way it can India’s presidency of G20 weeks before leaders – including Xi – are expected to gather in New Delhi for the grand finale choreographed by India."

Xi and Modi had also held a rare face-to-face dialogue on the sidelines of the BRICS summit last week, during which Xi snubbed a business forum speech, to discuss easing tensions along their shared border.

However, officials on both sides signaled that hope was on the horizon after Xi and Modi agreed to hasten negotiations over the disputed land.

However, relations hit another roadblocks after China released a new map showing the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and the Aksai Chin plateau as under Chinese sovereignty, prompting strong reactions from both sides. While India rubbished the “absurd” claim, Chinese officials warned India not to “overreact.”

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Xi’s absence could also be part of an apparent push to elevate other multilateral groups over those seen as US-dominated, given his preference for groupings in which China is more dominant, such as the recently concluded BRICS summit of emerging nations in Johannesburg.

Xi has pushed the BRICS bloc as an alternative to western-led groups such as the G20 and G7, furthering his narrative that while the west is falling, the east is rising like the sun.

The G20 Summit also comes at a time where the Chinese economy also faces a steep growth slope, and also faces one of its toughest periods in years over an escalating housing crisis. Xi’s rule, making his absence could point to a need to remain at home to deal with urgent economic problems.

Assistant Professor at Jindal Law School, OP Jindal Global University, Gunjan Singh told The Quint:

“Xi’s absence depicts a confrontational mindset and aggressive posture. He also doesn’t want to meet President Joe Biden given the ongoing trade and chip war."

Another likely explanation could be just a simple act of “bestie behavior”: an act of solidarity with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is also not attending the G20 summit, courtesy of an international criminal court arrest warrant for war crimes.

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How Will This Affect PM Modi and the G20 Summit?

Xi’s absence also means that the consensus on the G20 communique is potentially at risk. However, a G20 without Xi might not be all that bad for Modi’s domestic politics, given that he has been criticised in the past by Opposition parties for trying to cultivate a relationship with Xi, only for it to backfire following the rise in border clashes.

The dispute over the China's newly released map raises the question of what, if any, progress was made in August when the two leaders met on the sidelines of the BRICS summit. The countries said they had discussed the border dispute.

But, without any actual progress in border talks, Xi’s arrival would have meant normalising relations without making any sincere effort to resolve the border crisis.

Although Chinese Premier Li is attending the summit, the negotiating power of the Chinese delegation may be lower than when Xi would have led the delegation. Moreover, the delegation will also have to get Xi’s approval in Beijing to come to a compromise formulation, shrinking the space for the Chinese delegation to negotiate.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  G20 summit   G20   G20 India 

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