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Analysis: Xi’s expected no-show at G20 could be part of plan to reform global governance


When the world’s most powerful leaders descend on New Delhi this weekend to deal with the many crises the world faces, China’s Xi Jinping, who has never missed a G20 summit since taking power in 2012, will be in particular absent.

As is often the case with opaque decision-making in Beijing, no explanation was given for Xi’s apparent decision to skip a major global meeting that China has given high priority to in the past. Premier Li Qiang, the country’s second leader, is expected to attend in Xi’s place.

Beijing’s reticence has led to a wide range of speculation and interpretation, from Xi’s potential health problems and domestic problems at home to a critique of host country India, whose relations with China have frayed over an ongoing border dispute.

But seen through the lens of China’s deep power rivalry with the United States, analysts say Xi’s expected no-show at the G20 could also be a sign of his disillusionment with the existing global governance system — and the structures he believes are too overpowered by Americans. influence are dominated.

Instead, Xi could prioritize multilateral forums that fit China’s own vision of how the world should be run — such as the recently concluded BRICS summit and the upcoming Belt and Road Forum.

“There may be a deliberate disregard for India, but it could also be an explanation that there are several governance structures that Xi Jinping considers important — and the G20 may not be one of them,” said George Magnus, an economist and economist. . associate at the China Center at Oxford University.

“(Xi) maybe wanted to give an example to the Indian G20 and said, ‘This is not something I’m going to because I’ve got bigger fish to fry.’”

For some analysts, Xi’s absence may mark a shift in China’s view of the G20, a premier global forum that brings together the world’s leading advanced and emerging economies, which represent 80% of global GDP.

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China used to view the platform as a relatively neutral space for global governance and placed a high priority on G20 diplomacy, said Jake Werner, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute in Washington DC.

Since the first leadership summit in 2008, China’s top leader has always attended the meeting – including via video link during the Covid pandemic. And when China hosted its first G20 summit in 2016, it pulled out all the stops to make the event a success and showcase its growing influence on the global stage.

Since then, however, relations between the world’s two largest economies have been fraught with growing tensions and rivalries. Now “China views the G20 space increasingly focused on the US and its agenda, which Xi Jinping sees as hostile to China,” Werner said.

About half of the group’s members are US allies, whom the Biden administration has rallied to take a tougher stance on the fight against China. Beijing is also facing increasing tensions with other members — such as the border dispute with India — over its troubled relationship with the United States, Werner said.

Beijing has expressed outrage over New Delhi’s growing ties to Washington, and especially its involvement in the Quad — a US-led security group Beijing labels an “Indo-Pacific NATO.”

“China sees India in the anti-Chinese camp and therefore does not want to add value to a major international summit that India is hosting,” said Happymon Jacob, a professor of international studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

The division over the war in Ukraine also casts a shadow over the summit. So far, India has failed to deliver a joint statement at any of the most important G20 meetings since the country took over the presidency last December.

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China’s refusal to condemn the Russian invasion and continued diplomatic support for Moscow have increased friction with the West.

“China has said it believes the G20 should be limited to economic discussions. It should not be politicized around the geopolitical fault lines that the United States and Europeans want to penetrate,” said Werner.

Chinese analysts agree that Beijing may see the G20 as a platform of diminishing value and effectiveness.

Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University, said the G20 has become a “more complicated and challenging” stage for Chinese diplomacy compared to a few years ago, as the number of members friendly to China has declined.

Xi last attended the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia in November last year, when he emerged from China’s Covid isolation and declared his return to the global stage. During the two-day summit, he held diplomatic meetings with 11 world leaders – including US President Joe Biden – and invited many of them to visit China.

Since then, a long line of foreign dignitaries have knocked on Beijing’s door to meet Xi, including G20 leaders from Germany, France, Brazil, Indonesia and the EU, as well as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Meanwhile, Xi has made just two trips abroad this year — and both are central to his effort to reshape the global world order.

In March, Xi traveled to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin – an “old friend” who shares his deep mistrust of US power. Last month, he attended the BRICS summit of emerging countries in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the bloc announced the admission of six new members.

The expansion, hailed as “historic” by Xi, is a major victory for Beijing, which has long pushed to transform the loose economic grouping into a geopolitical counterweight to the West.

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Magnus, the expert at the University of Oxford, said the expanded BRICS is an example of the alternative governance structure Beijing wants to build – it includes some of the key countries in the global South, with China playing a central role.

In recent years, Xi has set out his vision for a new world order by announcing three global initiatives: the Global Security Initiative (a new security architecture without alliances), the Global Development Initiative (a new instrument to finance economic growth), and the Global Civilization Initiative (a new state-defined value system that is not subject to the boundaries of universal values).

While broad and seemingly vague in nature, “they are designed as an umbrella under which countries can unite around a Chinese-crafted narrative, which is different from the kind of governance structure that prevails under the auspices of the G20,” Magnus said.

Next month, the Chinese leader is expected to host the Belt and Road Forum to mark the tenth anniversary of his global infrastructure and trade initiative – a key element in Beijing’s new global governance structure.

Magnus said initiatives like the Belt and Road, BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — in which Beijing is either a founder or a major player — now have a much higher status in China.

“These entities exist as alternative structures to those that China has traditionally joined and had to share the spotlight with the United States,” he said.

“It also sends a message to the rest of the world – not just to the countries of the South, but also to shaky countries in the world of liberal democracy – that this is China’s tone.”

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