For Xi Jinping, G20 skipping more out of ego than compulsions

As Chinese President Xi Jinping skipped the G20 Summit in India, it would prove to be a missed opportunity for Beijing—both politically and strategically as the gathering in New Delhi has enabled the world’s developed and emerging economies to further cement their ties and smash any idea that encourages expansionism in the Indo-Pacific region through cartographic manipulations.

In fact, any bigger international gathering offers leaders an opportunity to establish personal rapport with fellow partners or allies and chart out new programmes and policies that suit larger interests of the world. It also enhances the diplomatic clout of the participating countries. By deliberately skipping the G20 Summit in India, Chinese President Xi Jinping not only dented Beijing’s diplomatic weight, but also missed to be part of a historic moment when the African Union was made a part of the group.

“We welcome the African Union as a permanent member of the G20 and strongly believe that inclusion of the African Union into the G20 will significantly contribute to addressing the global challenge of our time,” read the joint declaration issued by the G20 leaders at the summit.

The inclusion of the African Union as a permanent member of the G20 under India’s presidency appeared to be so momentous and decisive that its Chairperson and Comoros President AzaliAssoumani who was in New Delhi for the Summit praised India as a superpower which is “ahead of China now.”

In the game of perception, India won the battle, while China missed it even as Beijing is a major player in Africa where it has increased its footprint by pumping in $155 billion in the development of infrastructure over the past two decades. In addition to this, China’s trade with Africa has gone up; it stood at $254 billion in 2021 and $282 billion in 2022, said, Xinhua, China’s state-backed news agency.

China is currently Africa’s largest trading partner and the fourth -biggest source of investment. In the first four months of the year 2023, China invested $1.38 billion dollars, said Xinhua, indicating Beijing’s continued effort to strengthen its position in Africa.

The Chinese President, who usually keeps a tab on global development, is trying to bring together developing countries under Beijing’s political and economic influence to counter India, the US and its western allies’ approach to shore up their area of influence in the world.

At the G20 Summit in New Delhi, besides heads of the member countries, chiefs of the European Union and the European Council, and multilateral agencies, leaders of Bangladesh, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Egypt, Comoros, Mauritius, Oman, Singapore, and the UAE participated the meet as invitees.

For Xi Jinping, the world’s premier economic platform would have served him an opportunity to find a way out for his country’s current woes. However, he decided to skip it, raising “more questions about China’s global clout as its economy slows,” The Japan Times said.

In China, while exports have fallen in August by 8.8%– the fourth consecutive month of decline, local government debt, which was three times the GDP in 2022, has grown beyond imagination.

According to Reuters, local government debt was 92 trillion yuan ($12.8 trillion), or 76% of economic output in 2022. All this along, unemployment has gone up to around 21%, while Foreign Direct Investment declined to $4.9 billion during April-June period, said Nikkei Asia;manufacturing activity contracted for the fifth straight month in August; investment in real estate in the first seven months of the year fell 8.5% year on year to

6.77 trillion yuan ($943.5 billion), said China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

These readings have prompted economists across the world to raise concern about China’s economic growth. They say China may struggle to meet its GDP target of even about 5% for 2023.

In view of this, the Chinese President’s absence from a major international gathering in India meant further isolating Beijing from the world. Already, recent surveys of global public opinion have found negative views of China’s influence in international affairs, including middle income countries.

Of more than 27,000 people from across 24 countries surveyed by the Pew Research Centre between February 20 and May 22, 2023, 67% of them expressed negative views about China, while only 28% held a favourable opinion about the world’s second largest economic power. In addition to this, 71% of the respondents held an opinion that China does not contribute to global peace and stability.

This view is more apt given China’s aggressive military positioning in the South China Sea, hostile move against Taiwan, and continued military deployment against India across the Line of Control. Beijing’s recent release of maps showing territories of India, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Japan as those belonging to China have further added to the country’s disrepute as an expansionist.

In the midst of such developments, the same Middle East countries—Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are being courted by Beijing to be on its side and they were recently pushed by Beijing into the BRICS as its members during Johannesburg meet, signed an agreement for India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in New Delhi.

Partnered by India and the US along with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the initiative—a shipping and rail transport corridor linking South Asia with Middle East and Europe, will herald a new chapter in the history of international connectivity. These countries also partnered with the US-led Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) which aims at mobilising funds for delivering energy, physical, digital, health and climate-resilient infrastructure in low and middle-level countries.

Both PGII and the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor are seen in many ways a response to China-led opaque Belt and Road Initiative which has burdened several recipient countries in Asia and Africa with huge debt, pushing them into the octopus grip of political and economic crisis. From Sri Lanka and Pakistan to Zambia, Ghana, Angola,

and several countries are running from pillar to post to secure IMF loans to mitigate their economic woes. It is in this scenario, India-held G20 Summit offered an opportunity to find solutions to problems that largely affect the countries of the Global South. In the whole process, however, Xi Jinping missed the bus as by skipping the summit, he lost a chance to show China’s leadership at the time when the world wants resolutions and not conflict to steer out of economic, political, and climate-induced crisis.