Don’t play the role of a spoiler,” said Jake Sullivan, US President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser, referring to China while briefing mediapersons ahead of Biden’s visit to India. The US, India and other G20 members would encourage China to set aside divisive issues and play a constructive role in addressing pressing international problems, he added.
While India as the host nation has not issued any specific statement on Xi’s decision, other G20 members, particularly those from Europe, are unhappy at having missed an opportunity to convey Europe’s concerns on China’s policies directly to its top leader. It is not that they are unenthusiastic about talking to China’s Premier Li Qiang, who will be attending the G20 summit. But they believe that talking to Xi is important as he alone calls the shots in China; his advisers are, sometimes, unable to convey their views properly to Xi, considering the highly centralised polity in China.
Two European Union (EU) sources said recently that Xi’s presence would have been useful, given that China has been obstructing progress in the officials’ meetings on important issues such as the debt owed by developing countries, the Ukraine war and climate change. It is not clear if Premier Li would have the authority to change this stand.
Varying interpretations are being given for Xi’s surprising decision to not attend the New Delhi summit soon after he attended the BRICS summit at Johannesburg. The first is that Xi expected no major breakthrough or advance in China’s ties with the US and its allies at the summit, given the wide gap in their mutual positions. China’s relations with the US and its European and Asian allies have soured as they have started pushing back at Xi’s aggressive policies. Second, Xi would have got isolated as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was not attending the New Delhi summit and most other countries would support the US position. Third, the expanded BRICS is more important for China than G20 in view of its escalating political, economic, technological and military rivalry with the US.
A fourth reason being advanced is that Xi would have felt uncomfortable with his presence in India, a country with whom China’s relations have been strained for some time. However, Xi himself is to blame for a new chill in the India-China ties in recent days.
Prime Minister Modi had tried to improve the atmospherics for Xi’s visit to India by suggesting to him on August 23 at Johannesburg that both countries could step up efforts for the disengagement of troops and de-escalation of tensions on the India-China border. Xi ignored India’s suggestion by reiterating the old Chinese stand on the border issue; then, Beijing released on August 28 a new edition of its map which included the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, Aksai Chin and large swathes of Malaysian, Philippine and Vietnamese maritime territories, besides Taiwan. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar angrily said on August 29: “Making absurd claims on India’s territory does not make it China’s territory.” Concerned ASEAN countries and Taiwan quickly followed India’s lead by contemptuously dismissing China’s claims on their territories.
China’s decision to publish its new map just before the ASEAN summit in Jakarta and the G20 summit in New Delhi is being seen as the petty act of an authoritarian and insensitive regime to foist its hegemony on neighbouring countries. It is likely to intensify anti-China sentiments in the region and push the ASEAN and other states to gravitate more towards the US in a conflict with China. India will become even less mindful of China’s concerns and be persuaded to move more towards the US in building its political, economic, technological and military ties. In Europe and other regions, China will be seen as siding more closely with Russia and not as independent or a genuine mediator. It will hurt China’s relations with European nations such France and Germany, which were considering to take a more independent stance (of Washington) towards Beijing.
By downgrading the importance of the G20, China will be seen as less interested in finding a solution to global problems such as food, energy shortages, debt and climate finance. Xi’s tempestuous functioning, unexplained disappearance of China’s former Foreign Minister Qin Gang recently and the sudden downturn in the Chinese economy would hurt China’s global standing. China would get more isolated as many countries in Asia such as Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines have now hardened their stand towards Beijing.
The New Delhi summit is being held at an important time when the world is confronted with the increasing East-West rivalry and the North-South divide. The Ukraine conflict has resulted in escalation of geopolitical tensions and shortage of food, energy, fertilisers, minerals and other commodities. India has been working assiduously with the other G20 countries to find suitable solutions to these and other global problems, which will also advance the interests of the developing countries. Simultaneously, India has been pushing for a more equal and inclusive world order with adequate representation for the developing countries. The provision of a permanent seat for the African Union in the G20 is illustrative of this initiative.
China has been vocal about the importance of multilateralism, the G20 as a premier forum for international economic cooperation and its role in fostering dialogue on sustainable development, climate change, environmental protection and other issues. It is hoped that the Chinese delegation under the leadership of Li would play a positive role in realising the key objectives identified for international economic cooperation by India and other G20 countries. If it continues its obstructionist role to mar India’s G20 presidency, it would only score an own goal, as questions would be raised about China’s credentials to shape the global agenda.
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