This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
As international speculation mounts over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s likely absence from the upcoming G20 Summit, Indian news sources reported on Friday that Chinese Premier Li Qiang would be taking Xi’s place at the international forum.
Li will fly to New Delhi for the Sept. 9-10 summit after the 43rd ASEAN summit in Jakarta, according to Indian news reports.
Indian media took note that Xi had never missed a G20 summit before the pandemic, insinuating that his absence at the Indian capital summit was a direct snub to India.
If the Chinese leader does skip the summit, he’d also be passing up the opportunity to meet U.S. President Joe Biden, who will be traveling to New Delhi, as well as other leaders of the world’s leading economies.
At a press conference in Washington on Thursday, Biden said: “I hope he attends.”
Four senior Biden administration officials have visited China in recent months in an attempt to manage troubled relations between the two world powers.
Tensions between China and India have also been palpable. The two countries have been locked in a sometimes-violent standoff at the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, northern India, since mid-2020 and this week China issued a controversial new map that included Indian territory – Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin – within its boundary.
“We have today lodged a strong protest through diplomatic channels with the Chinese side on the so-called 2023 ‘standard map’ of China that lays claim to India’s territory,” said Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs.
“We reject these claims as they have no basis. Such steps by the Chinese side only complicate the resolution of the boundary question,” he said.
But the news also comes less than two weeks after what Xi hailed as a “historic” BRICS gathering in Johannesburg that saw Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa agree to allow six new members to join.
The grouping of developing countries invited Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to join, in a move that is thought will add weight to a bloc that seeks to act as a counterbalance to the U.S.-led West.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the six nations would become full members in 2024.
Division in the ranks
China’s President Xi will be the second world leader to decline attending the summit in India if the news is confirmed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be attending because of an arrest warrant for alleged war crimes issued by the International Criminal Court and China’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to be a divisive issue among global leaders.
According to sources who asked not to be identified discussing confidential negotiations, China has been intervening on language used in draft proposals ahead of the summit on issues such as emerging-market debt and condemning Russia’s war on Ukraine, Bloomberg reported.
Tensions between China and India were visible at the recent BRICS Summit, according to some analysts. Amid expectations that Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would meet on the sidelines of the summit in Johannesburg, they in fact only met for several minutes.
Some attribute the frostiness of the relationship to festering tensions over the border dispute in the Galwan Valley, where deadly clashes broke out in 2020, leading to the deaths of 20 Indian troops and, officially, four Chinese deaths.
“At a time when tens of thousands of Chinese and Indian troops are facing off on the Himalayan massif, it would have been odd had Xi visited New Delhi for G-20 summit without seeking to defuse the confrontation,” wrote expert on South Asian security affairs and author of “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” Brahma Chellaney on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“By skipping the summit, Xi is only advertising his intransigence,” Chellaney added.
“It is evident that Sino-Indian relations are navigating complex terrain,” said Farwa Aamer, director of South Asia Initiatives at the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York.
She added that the tensions around G20 were illuminating to the extent they showed how strategic competition between nations were impacting economic cooperation and multilateral diplomacy.
Reuters, Agence France-Presse and the Financial Times had previously cited Indian and EU officials as saying that Xi was likely to skip the global summit.
Wang Wenbin, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, claimed to have “nothing to offer” at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Thursday when asked if Xi or Li would attend the G20.