Xi Jinping's G20 Absence — And Risks Of A Splintering World
There will be no Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping at this weekend's summit of the world's 20 leading economies in New Delhi: a symbol of the fragmentation of the world that has accelerated since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
If ever a symbol of the divisions in today's world was needed, the summit of the world's 20 leading economies, the G20, offers it to us on a silver platter.
The G20 has grown in importance in recent years as the body most representative of global diversity, more so than the UN Security Council, frozen in the world of 1945, and weakened by its members' overuse of the right of veto.
And yet, the G20, in its turn, has also been overtaken by the fragmentation of the world. The Summit, which takes place on Saturday and Sunday in New Delhi under the Indian presidency, will have two major absentees. The first is, of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin, due to an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court, even though India is not a signatory to the Court. Putin hardly travels abroad anymore.
The other absentee, instead, is China's leader Xi Jinping. And although I looked hard, I couldn't find any official explanation for his absence. China will be represented by Premier Li Qiang, so there's no actual boycott, just the absence of the leader of the world's second-largest economy from a summit attended by the U.S. President Joe Biden, top European leaders and those of major emerging economies such as Brazil.
Possible explanations for China's absence
There are several possible explanations. The Indians, China's great rivals, suspect that the Chinese leader wanted to deprive their Prime Minister Narendra Modi of diplomatic glory.
The Americans wonder whether Xi Jinping wanted to avoid meeting Biden, in the midst of Sino-American tensions.
But above all, Xi Jinping was in Johannesburg just two weeks ago for the BRICS summit, the club of emerging countries that is clearly dominated by China. That summit was used to expand the organization for the first time, from five to 11 members.
So has Xi chosen BRICS, where he is in a position of strength and power, rather than the G20, where the war in Ukraine and his friendship with Russia could prove problematic? If so, it would be a choice fraught with consequences.
A paramilitary soldier stands guard near the Bharat Mandapam International Exhibition-Convention Centre as preparations are made for the G20 Summit, New Delhi.
Favoring BRICS over G20
By favoring BRICS over a multilateral organization like the G20, China's leader would be running the risk of triggering a deeper fragmentation of the world. This predates the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but it has certainly become more evident in the last 18 months.
BRICS remains largely an empty shell
But the BRICS still need to offer a real alternative to China. India, in particular, has no intention of letting China turn this forum for cooperation between countries of the Global South into an anti-Western battleground. And despite last month's stunning enlargement, BRICS remains largely an empty shell. In Johannesburg, nothing was decided on the ambition of certain members to move towards the de-dollarization of the world, or the creation of a common currency.
The absence of China's No. 1 in Delhi may be no more than a temporary set-back in a tense international climate. But there's no denying that it casts a shadow over a summit that represents one of the last bridges between divided worlds growing increasingly antagonistic.
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