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China signals Xi to skip G20 summit as ‘East is rising’

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the plenary session of the 2023 BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Center in Johannesburg, South Africa, on August 23, 2023. (Via Reuters)

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has announced that Premier Li Qiang will lead the country’s delegation at the upcoming summit of G20 in India, signaling that President Xi Jinping would not attend, what experts believe may be another way for Xi to pivot away from the US-dominated institutions.

“The G20 is the main forum for international economic cooperation and China has always placed great importance on and proactively taken part in such events,” Mao Ning, the ministry’s spokesperson, said at a news conference on Monday, when asked by a reporter why China’s “leader” would not attend.

While Mao did not correct journalists who made the assertion that Li’s attendance meant that Xi would not go, she declined to directly confirm that.

The upcoming summit is scheduled for September 9-10 in New Delhi.

Since its first edition in 2008, no Chinese president has missed the leaders’ summit, though Xi attended virtually in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wen-Ti Sung, political scientist at the Australian National University, pointed out that Xi had taken part in last month’s meeting of leaders of the BRICS group of major emerging economies in South Africa.

“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’, as well as showing solidarity with Russia’s President Putin who is also not attending,” Sung said.

Russia will be represented by its foreign minister following an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for Putin over alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

Analysts have also suggested that ditching this year’s G20 could be a snub of the host India.

China and India are embroiled in border disputes. The Sino-Indian border disputes have led to violent clashes over the years, including one in June 2020 that killed at least 24 Indian and Chinese soldiers.

Following reports on Xi’s absence from the summit, Biden said on Sunday that he was disappointed Xi was not going to attend, but he added that he was going to “get to see him”, without elaborating.

The last time the two presidents met was on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Indonesia in November.

Beijing’s relationship with Washington stands at its lowest point since the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two governments due to persisting differences ranging from trade and technology to regional security and territorial disputes.

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