*Editor’s note: On March 4, 2022, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.
In meetings ahead of the Group of 20 summit, China refused to support any resolutions condemning Russia.
Chinese President Xi Jinping will probably not attend the Group of 20 summit in New Delhi on Sept. 9-10. Citing anonymous Indian officials and other sources, Reuters reported that Chinese Premier Li Qiang will take his place. Li is also likely to attend the 2023 Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit and East Asia Summit in Jakarta on Sept. 5-7. Neither New Delhi nor Beijing has made any comment following the news. This silence has sparked speculation in the media about why Xi might not be attending the upcoming Group of 20 summit. Perhaps he is not feeling well or he may want to caution New Delhi against supporting American expansion in the Asia-Pacific region.
“If Xi, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, is not going to fly to India to participate in the summit, which will bring together the leaders of 20 major global economies, then China’s image as the most powerful state defending the interests of the global south, in other words, developing countries, may suffer,” said Alexander Lukin, academic head of the Institute of China and Contemporary Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “The media is speculating why Xi is not likely to participate in the G20 summit. It would look strange for the Chinese president to skip such an important event. Is he really going to miss it? Well, China doesn’t like to inform the public of its leaders’ intentions in advance. In fact, Chinese state media announced the dismissal of Foreign Minister Qin Gang with a long delay. I’m not saying Xi got fired. What I mean is that China is usually slow when it comes to reporting such news,” Lukin added.
Lukin also pointed out that if recent reports are true, then the Chinese leader’s absence is an unusual event indeed. No one knows why Xi might choose not to attend the Group of 20 summit. This information is highly confidential. Xi might stay in Beijing because he is not feeling well or is simply busy dealing with other issues. In South Africa during the BRICS summit, Xi is known to have missed one event, yet he showed up at a dinner later. So he wasn’t sick. It is also believed that the Chinese leader will not come to India because he is frustrated with its rapprochement with the U.S. But this theory is a little far-fetched. Perhaps China believes that Xi won’t be received well enough, or that there will be some kind of unrest and protests. After all, there is great dissatisfaction with Chinese politics among the common people in India. That is why it is better to send someone less important and conspicuous.
Western media is particularly focused on the prospects of Xi’s meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden. They spoke to each other at the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia last year. However, they might miss a chance to interact this year. “China is keen to normalize relations with Washington, while the U.S. has elections coming up. If someone in Washington starts speaking in favor of improving relations with China, their rivals will condemn them as traitors,” Lukin said.
According to Lukin, Xi’s trip to Jakarta or refusal to go has nothing to do with China-Russia relations. India is scheduled to host the Group of 20 summit on Sept. 9-10. On the eve of this important event, Group of 20 ministers and officials were holding a series of meetings. The U.S. and its allies tried to push through resolutions condemning Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. China did not support these resolutions. But Beijing’s policy is driven by its own interests and not those of other countries. China will not extend any gestures of solidarity with Moscow. After all, Putin didn’t travel to South Africa when Xi was present there.
Reuters explains that it was informed of Xi’s decision not to participate in the upcoming Group of 20 summit by anonymous sources that Chinese officials do not disclose. Nevertheless, it is still possible that the Chinese and American leaders will meet at the Asia-Pacific Cooperation Forum in San Francisco in November. Beijing’s intention of improving relations with Washington is evidenced by the warm reception of U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in China and the fact that the Chinese Defense Ministry unexpectedly announced that ties between the military departments of the two countries haven’t been cut off. However, China declined a U.S. invitation for a meeting in Singapore between Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu.
Furthermore, it is unlikely that China-U.S. differences can be expected to be resolved in the near future. Beijing’s key concern remains the question of Taiwan’s independence, which China still considers to be part of its land. However, Biden has just stunned the Chinese by adding Taiwan to the list of sovereign states to which the United States provides military assistance.
Thus, it’s highly unlikely that China and India will resolve their issues if Xi decides not to attend the upcoming summit. Though Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the need to reduce border tensions in the Himalayas at the recent BRICS summit in South Africa, it remains unclear whether these high-stakes negotiations will continue.