Is Xi’s G20 snub worse for China or India?

China’s president, Xi Jinping, has decided not to attend the two-day Group of 20 summit starting Sept. 9 in India. Xi attended the 2020 and 2021 meetings virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, but this will be the first time a Chinese leader has skipped one of the gatherings outright since the first summit in 2008. China’s second-ranking official, Premier Li Qiang, will go in Xi’s place.

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The apparent snub of the host country, India, comes as the neighboring nuclear-armed Asian powers are in a standoff over a border dispute, The Guardian noted. They also are battling for leadership on the world stage, with India determined to leverage its rising population and economic output to present itself as a leader of the world’s developing nations. Delhi plans to use the summit to demonstrate its new leadership role.

Xi recently attended a South Africa summit of the BRICS bloc, which Beijing is pushing to expand in hopes that it will become a legitimate alternative to the Western-led Group of Seven and the G20. “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, an Australian National University political scientist and China expert. Will Xi’s absence hurt India, or wind up costing Beijing and giving Delhi the chance to steal the limelight?

This is bad news for India

There’s no denying this is a significant “snub to New Delhi,” said YP Rajesh, Krishn Kaushik, and Martin Quin Pollard at Reuters. Xi’s absence also represents “a new setback to the already frozen relations” between the rival Asia powers. It has “added to existing irritants, including a military stand-off” on the Himalayan border following a June 2020 clash that left 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese troops dead. With no thaw in sight, India might as well forget about the “speedy resolution” it was hoping for. 

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India “has invested a huge amount of time and money in presenting this G20 as the moment when the country takes on a leadership role on the world stage,” said Shweta Sharma in The Independent. Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to be seen as the “‘Vishwaguru’ or global teacher providing a voice for the whole developing world.” But it is all being “overshadowed by geopolitical fallout.” Russian President Vladimir Putin is staying away to avoid possible arrest for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, and now Xi is backing out, too. This shows that India faces “a seemingly insurmountable task in bridging the gap between Western nations on one side and allies Russia and China on the other.”

Xi is the one showing weakness

Xi’s decision to stay away is not a show of strength, said Katsuji Nakazawaxi at Nikkei Asia. This “is likely an attempt to avoid losing face.” Xi has “consistently attached importance” to G20 summits, but he has been beaten down by a rough summer. China’s “economy is receding in ways unseen since ‘reform and opening-up’ began in the late 1970s. The real estate sector is in shambles,” and youth unemployment is so high Beijing “stopped releasing figures.” A group of Communist party elders “reprimanded” Xi at this summer’s meeting at the seaside resort of Beidaihe. Xi skipped an economic forum at the BRICS summit and the upcoming G20 meeting for the same reason — he doesn’t want to get questions about China’s economic troubles that he can’t answer.

Xi might regret staying away, said Stephen Collinson at CNN. His absence hands President Biden a golden opportunity “to push forward his relationship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom he welcomed to a glittering state dinner at the White House in June.” The United States is doing everything it can to “nudge India closer to security arrangements and political groupings involving its allies in the Pacific, as it seeks to counterbalance rising Chinese power.” India, with its “historic non-aligned status,” is reluctant to go too far in cozying up to Washington, but China’s unfriendliness will only ensure that Delhi will be careful to keep “a foot in both camps,” which only makes things harder for Beijing.

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