For a Western official involved in preparations for next week’s G20 summit in India, the news that Chinese President Xi Jinping will be absent from the summit means only one thing: “They’ve been working all year to undermine our common work. ,” the official said. “Not participating is the obvious step.”

Xi’s decision to send Premier Li Qiang to the summit has not yet been confirmed by Beijing, and Western officials say it was relayed to them by their Chinese counterparts.

But the absence of the Chinese president will deal a blow to India’s presidency of multilateral meetings and the New Delhi summit. It also undermines the G20’s status as the preeminent forum for global leadership due to deep divisions among member states.

G20 ministerial forums have failed for months to reach joint conclusions on topics ranging from health care to climate change amid disagreements over issues such as the war in Ukraine and burden-sharing between rich and developing countries.

Some India watchers believe China wants to disrupt India’s showcase amid friction between the two countries over a disputed border.

“China has been the main opponent of consensus on almost every issue,” said Indrani Bagchi, chief executive of Indian think tank Ananta Aspen Centre.

It will be the first absence of Xi or any Chinese president from the G20 summit, a low point for a body designed to find consensus among the world’s most powerful nations despite their social or economic differences.

Premier Li Keqiang is China’s second-highest leader and Xi Jinping’s right-hand man. But Josh Lipsky, senior director at the Washington-based Atlantic Council’s Center for Geoeconomics, said the president’s absence puts the G20’s “long-term sustainable viability and success” in question.

U.S. President Joe Biden, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping met last year on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia

U.S. President Joe Biden, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping met last year during the G20 summit in Indonesia © Saul Leob/AFP/Getty Images

“When the G20 speaks, are they speaking without China’s affirmation, such as debt restructuring talks?” Lipsky said. “This is an existential threat to the future of the G20.”

At its previous two summits in 2008 and 2009 to coordinate the response to the global financial crisis, the G20 was hailed as an emerging major international decision-making body, reflecting the importance and economic influence of developing countries, led by developing countries constant increase. China.

Gordon Brown, who hosted the 2009 summit as prime minister, said it represented “the unity of the world”.

But with the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the start of an all-out war against Ukraine last February, Russia’s rupture with the West has led to a breakdown in G20 unity and a resulting global crisis, coupled with tensions between the US and China in recent years Escalating, exacerbating the fault line between Russia and the developed world. and developing members.

The G20 unexpectedly reached a joint statement at the 2022 Bali summit. But discussions under the Indian presidency this year have been characterized by seemingly irreconcilable differences between the democracies and Russia and China over the war in Ukraine.

At a meeting of G20 foreign ministers, finance ministers and other officials, India failed to secure a single final statement agreed by all members. Russia and China have repeatedly chosen not to make statements from Western countries condemning the war.

Asked about Mr. Xi’s absence, China’s Foreign Ministry said only on Friday that it would announce any travel plans “at an appropriate time”. Beijing this month dismissed claims it had blocked a G20 consensus on reducing climate emissions, saying it was “completely against the facts”.

“China believes that the G20, as the main forum for international economic cooperation, shoulders important responsibilities in promoting global sustainable development, coordinating economic development and environmental protection, and addressing climate change,” the foreign ministry said.

But while Mr. Xi may have initially viewed the G20 as a means to boost China’s geopolitical influence, it has increasingly become a more challenging forum, analysts said.

Relations between China and the United States have soured, and Japan, South Korea, Germany and other European powers have also taken a tougher stance.

“Over the past decade, many G20 members have hardened their stance on China,” said Paul Haenle, China director at the Carnegie think tank. “It’s a tough crowd for (Xi Jinping).”

U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters on Thursday he still hoped Xi could attend, a sign of the importance the White House places on global cooperation beyond the most advanced economies of the Group of Seven.

But Xi’s absence will give Biden and other Western leaders a chance to demonstrate to developing countries that they are ready to increase support with economic aid to rival China’s Belt and Road infrastructure development initiative.

Jack Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said last month that the president saw the New Delhi summit as an opportunity for “the United States and like-minded partners to make a value proposition, especially to countries in the southern hemisphere.”

Xi’s planned absence is in stark contrast to his spotlight-stealing appearance at the BRICS summit in South Africa last week. At that summit, Xi presided over a move to expand the group, which Beijing considers a rival to the U.S.-led Global Forum, from five to 11 members.

“Xi Jinping’s decision not to attend is clearly an insult to the Modi-led G20 leadership, but it also highlights the real lack of cohesion among the BRICS, weakening the over the hype about expanding the BRICS bloc.” W. Bush.

“The only thing (BRIC) that seems to have in common is a desire to hedge against the dollar and American leadership,” added Price, who was a coordinator for the Bush summit and is now the head of consulting firm Rock Creek Global Advisors.

China watchers believe that besides the BRICS, another venue that is friendlier to China than the G20 is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which also includes Russia and Central Asian countries.

But Heinle said Xi’s absence from the India summit would hurt China more than the G20.

“Instead of weakening China’s position in the G20, it has weakened China’s ability to shape the global agenda. The G20 will not disappear,” he said.

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