Analysts say absence could be snub to Delhi or part of apparent push by Beijing to elevate blocs not regarded as US-dominated
Xi Jinping’s attendance at the G20 this weekend has been all but ruled out after China’s foreign ministry announced the team would be led by the country’s premier, Li Qiang.
It will be the first time a Chinese leader has not attended the G20 leaders’ summit since the first was held in 2008, although Xi attended only virtually in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic.
The US president, Joe Biden, said last week that he hoped Xi would attend the summit in Delhi, but US officials played down the chances of the two leaders meeting after reports that Xi’s attendance was in doubt.
Analysts suggested Xi’s absence could be a snub to the host country, India, with which China is embroiled in border disputes. It could also be part of an apparent push to elevate other multilateral groups over those seen as US-dominated.
Xi most recently travelled to the Brics summit in South Africa, a bloc the Chinese leader is pushing as an alternative to western-led groups such as the G20 and G7.
China’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Mao Ning, announced Li would lead the delegation. She did not dispute reporters’ assertions that Xi would not attend, and it is highly unlikely that China’s top two leaders would both be out of the country at the same time, let alone attending the same event.
“Xi’s skipping the west-heavy club of G20 right after attending the Brics summit may be a visual illustration of Xi’s narrative of ‘east is rising, and the west is falling’,” said Wen-ti Sung, a China expert and political scientist at the Australian National University.
Sung said it could also be to avoid meeting Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, “at the height of its propaganda campaign against Japan’s Fukushima wastewater release”, or an act of solidarity with the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, who is also not attending the G20. Putin is subject to an international criminal court arrest warrant for war crimes.
Xi and Biden, whose governments are attempting to repair ties after years of deteriorating relations and continuing setbacks, last met in person in November, on the sidelines of the G20 in Indonesia.
Biden, who is being represented at this week’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Indonesia by his vice-president, Kamala Harris, will fly on to Vietnam after the G20.
At Monday’s press conference in Beijing, Mao accused the US of pursuing a “zero-sum cold war mentality in dealing with its relationships with Asian countries”.
“It should adhere to the fundamental principles of international relations, avoid targeting third parties, and not harm the peace, stability, and developments of the region,” she said.
On Sunday Biden said he was still going to “get to see him”, referring to Xi, but did not elaborate. Another forthcoming major summit of world leaders is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in San Francisco in November.
China and the US are in a battle for influence in the Indo-Pacific, but neither Xi nor Biden have attended the Asean summit this week.
“Xi Jinping is setting his own agenda where his top concern is national security and he has to stay in China and make foreign leaders visit him instead,” Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, told Reuters.
“But if Xi skips Apec, that would be very substantial after all the preparations made for it by the US side, and it would reflect even more badly on China’s future and its international standing, since it still needs foreign investment.”
Other G20 leaders attending include the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and the French president, Emmanuel Macron.