NEW DELHI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping is likely to miss the Group of 20 leaders summit in India next week, sources familiar with the matter in India and China told Reuters, a development that would undermine chances of a meeting. There with US President Joe Biden.
Xi’s absence could also be a major blow to host India, according to some analysts, who see it as a sign that China is reluctant to lend influence to its southern neighbour, which boasts one of the fastest growing major economies in light of China’s slowdown.
Two Indian officials, a diplomat based in China and an official working for the government of another G20 country said that Premier Li Qiang is expected to represent Beijing at the meeting in New Delhi on Sept. 9-10.
Spokesmen for the Indian and Chinese foreign ministries did not respond to requests for comment.
Li is also likely to attend a summit of East and Southeast Asian leaders in Jakarta, Indonesia, from Sept. 5 to 7, according to a report by Kyodo.
The summit in India was seen as a potential meeting place between Xi and Biden, who has confirmed his attendance, as the two superpowers seek to stabilize relations strained by trade and geopolitical tensions.
Xi last met Biden on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, last November.
“I hope he will,” Biden told reporters Thursday in Washington.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has already said he will not travel to New Delhi and will send Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov instead.
“We are aware that the prime minister will come,” a senior Indian government official told Reuters.
In China, two foreign diplomats and a government official from another G20 country said Xi would likely not travel to the summit.
Two of those three sources in China said they had been informed by Chinese officials, but were unaware of the reason for Xi’s expected absence.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The G20 summit is seen as an important showcase for India, as the country has emerged from a successful moon landing and is promoting itself as a rising power with attractive markets and a source for diversifying the global supply chain.
But relations between the G20 host country and China have been turbulent for more than three years after soldiers from both sides clashed on the Himalayan border in June 2020, leaving 24 people dead.
Faroe Amer, director of South Asia initiatives at the Asian Community Policy Institute in New York, said Xi’s absence from the summit could be explained by China being “reluctant to cede center stage” to India.
“China does not want India to be the voice of the global south, or to be that Himalayan country hosting the very successful G-20 summit,” she added.
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Expectations of a meeting between Xi and Biden have been fueled by a group of senior US officials who have visited Beijing in recent months, including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo earlier this week.
But Chinese and US officials told Reuters they were looking at the November meeting of leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in San Francisco as the likely main meeting place for Xi and Biden this year, and played down expectations about any major talks. between the two countries in the G20.
However, no official APEC meetings or attendance plans have been announced.
Xi has attended all other G20 summits in person since he became president in 2013 except in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic when he joined via video link. The 2020 G20 meeting hosted by Saudi Arabia was held virtually due to the pandemic.
Xi, who secured a third term as leader last October, has made few trips abroad since China abruptly dropped strict border controls brought on by the epidemic this year.
Although he played a prominent role in a meeting held in South Africa last week of leaders of the BRICS group of major emerging economies, the Chinese government did not give a reason for his absence from the business forum there.
The Chinese Minister of Commerce delivered his scheduled speech instead.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a rare conversation with Xi on the sidelines of the BRICS summit and highlighted India’s concerns over the border dispute between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.
Several G20 ministerial meetings in India ahead of the summit were contentious, with Russia and China jointly opposing joint statements that included passages condemning Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine last year.
(Reporting by Krishn Kaushik in New Delhi, Laurie Chen and Martin Quinn Pollard in Beijing, Michael Martina, Trevor Honeycutt and Andrea Shalal in Washington) Editing by YP Rajesh, John Geddy, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Andrew Heavens
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