In keeping with the consistently fact-free analysis that emanates from the West on anything Indian, we are now being told by western “experts” that Xi Jinping not coming to the New Delhi G20 Leaders’ Summit is a huge snub as well as a major blow to India. Contrast this with a report coming from the easternmost part of Asia, specifically from Japan, which asserts that Xi is not going to Delhi because he will have a hard time explaining China’s economic downturn to a forum—G20—that is essentially about economic cooperation between the larger and the emerging economies. The Japanese media report says that it was because of fear of facing uncomfortable questions on China’s economic troubles that Xi did not address the business forum at BRICS Johannesburg recently. If the report is to be believed, the immediate reason for Xi’s non-attendance is an annual get-together at a seaside resort in Beidaihe in Hebei Province, where Chinese Communist Party elders told him bluntly that if he could not take care of the political, economic and social turmoil hobbling the PRC, then the CCP would lose relevance—that the Party would be over sooner than later. An apparently unnerved Xi then decided to send Premier Li Qiang, who handles the economy, to G20 to face the “music”, so to say. There is also speculation that Xi is unwilling to meet US President Joe Biden at a time when US-China relations are fraught. Whether the reality is as juicy as all this or not, the fact is there have been reports of unhappiness in the CCP with “President for Life” Xi’s governance. In fact, The Sunday Guardian did a report in July that said that the then Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s disappearance from public eye—and subsequent removal from his post—showed that Xi’s grip on the party was weakening (Qin Gang’s absence may reflect Xi’s weakening grip on the CCP, July 23, 2023, The Sunday Guardian). It seems that the disappearance of Qin may have taken place “not because of Xi’s orders but in spite of them”, that Qin Gang had “become the ‘chicken’ that is being removed to scare the ‘farmer’, Xi himself”. If this is indeed the case, we may be looking at China entering uncharted waters and which way things play out, only time will tell.
But even if this is disregarded and it is assumed that Xi is not coming to India because he wants to show his unhappiness with India, will it hurt India’s G20 presidency? With around 17 world leaders present in Delhi, India is unlikely to miss Xi. Lest we forget, this summit is about rebooting the world order to make it, as the Indian Prime Minister said this week, more human-centric than just GDP-centric, to make it more inclusive so that everyone’s voice is heard. This is the reason why India is pushing for the G20 to become G21, with the inclusion of the African Union as the 21st entity. It’s a summit where India is the natural leader of the Global South. The summit is not about Biden meeting Xi, Vladimir Putin not attending it, or Volodymyr Zelenskyy not invited to it. The Ukraine war hijacked the Bali Summit in 2022, with Indonesia allowing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to address the leaders congregated there, virtually. In contrast, India has been clear right from the beginning, that no way the focus of the summit would be diluted.
At a time when the world is facing a food and energy security crisis, when the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are nowhere near meeting their target by 2030, Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s unhappiness with Vladimir Putin cannot be the focus. In fact Xi’s absence raises questions about his country’s ability to be the leader of the Global South. How serious is Xi about taking up the issues of the Global South on different international fora? After all, all that China is doing is trying to weaken countries of the Global South by luring them into debt traps, apart from training them to follow the Chinese system of authoritarian governance, as it is doing in Africa. China’s interest is in bloc politics and influence peddling at the international level, where China is the Middle Kingdom, Xi is the emperor and its bloc-members vassal states that pay tribute to the emperor. With such an approach to geopolitics, China is incapable of leading the Global South. It is India, with its civilisational philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam—one earth, one family, one future—that has the vision to look at a world beyond blocs. It’s a vision that will be difficult to achieve, given the current geopolitical circumstances. But India is trying to steer G20 in that direction, leave a deep imprint on the new world order. Hence, the issues at hand at the Delhi G20 are important. Not Xi Jinping’s attendance.