As the G20 summit scheduled for 9 September approaches, the absence of two major world leaders, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to leave questions loom large as speculations and analysis swirl regarding the implications of their non-participation.
US President Joe Biden has openly expressed his disappointment over President Xi’s absence. Notably, this marks Xi’s first time skipping the annual G20 summit since its inception, except for 2021 due to Covid restrictions.
The absence of both Xi and Putin has raised eyebrows in the international community, particularly given the significance of their roles in global affairs. Putin’s absence means that this year’s G20 will deprive attendees of an opportunity to appeal to him directly to end the war in Ukraine and its fallout, including its effect on food prices, as Politico observed.
Xi’s non-attendance has led to speculation that it could be a diplomatic snub towards Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Rising tensions along their shared border and US efforts to strengthen ties with India as a counterbalance to China may be contributing factors. Additionally, Xi is reportedly grappling with economic challenges at home, possibly making him cautious about leaving China amid domestic discontent, while some suggest that it could be due to his health.
Ashok K Kantha, former Ambassador to China, in an interview with The Wire, emphasized the diplomatic implications of Xi’s absence, stating, “It is a clear message in the context of our relationship with China and the importance Xi Jinping and China attach to the G20 as a platform.” Kantha further explained how after the formal meeting between PM Modi and President Xi Jinping during the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, there were two sides of contradictory statements from the Indian foreign secretary and Chinese foreign secretary.
Further, this was followed by the release of China’s “standard map” where they claimed Aksai Chin and areas of Arunachal Pradesh to be Chinese territory. Kantha reiterated that it sends a “clear message” to both New Delhi and other partners in G20. “To New Delhi, it is saying that our relation is not doing very well and that the prospect of improvement is not very high. To the other G20 partners, it signifies a lower level of importance being attached by Xi Jinping and China to G20 as a platform.”
Amanda Hsiao, a senior China analyst with the International Crisis Group, in an interview with The Guardian, suggested that Beijing may see “limited use” in the G20 for pushing Chinese narratives. She noted that China doesn’t need to invest as much because they have other multilateral platforms, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)and BRICS, where it can exert greater influence and control the agenda. Hsiao proposed that Xi’s absence could be a tactical move to create more demand for his future attendance, giving China more room to exert influence when necessary.
Meanwhile, according to Politico, Putin plans to grab attention elsewhere this weekend, closer to home. He’s hosting the Eastern Economic Forum, which starts Sunday in Vladivostok. It could be the venue for a meeting between him and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom the US alleges is considering supplying Russia with weapons for the Ukraine war.
As the G20 summit unfolds, the absence of these key leaders is expected to cast a shadow over the proceedings, with many closely watching for implications on global diplomacy and cooperation.
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