With Xi Jinping absent, G20 meeting could well be Modi’s time to shine


President Xi Jinping’s absence at the G20 summit this weekend in New Delhi may prove a disadvantage for China in its competition with India as the leading voice of developing countries across Asia, Africa and South America.

With its growing diplomatic and economic influence on the global stage amid heightened geopolitical tensions between Washington and Beijing, experts said, New Delhi regards the summit as its moment to act as a bridge between the West and the Global South – as Xi has chosen to skip the event.

According to Manjari Chaterjee Miller of the Council on Foreign Relations, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi perceives the G20 presidency as a “big opportunity to showcase” India’s credentials – and “of course China has been watching this”.

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She said that as a “rising power over the last few years”, New Delhi has been aggressively courted by Western countries – a member of the Global South with “very strong partnerships with the West”.

China claims a superpower competition with the US, but Miller noted that it continues to call itself a developing country, raising the question of Global South leadership.

And, she said, Xi does not want to validate Modi’s bigger stage to speak for the developing world. “You know, ‘Yes, we’re not going to come to this. We’re not going to send President Xi to attend the summit, which has been clearly so important to you for the whole year,'” she added.

Relations between the neighbouring nations have been rocky since deadly clashes along their disputed Himalayan border in 2020, with more than 18 rounds of negotiations failing to ease tensions.

New Delhi also regards Beijing’s push to expand Brics – the developing world economic association both belong to – as a threat to its influence in the group.

Last month, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were invited to join Brics. China is the top trading partner of all the new members, except for Argentina.

However, Miller noted, India’s G20 agenda includes a “lot to do with Global South priorities”, from climate finance to multilateral development bank reforms to food insecurity.

She added that having the leaders of G20 countries available for meetings on the sidelines would be beneficial for Modi and New Delhi generally.

“President Biden is going to be meeting with Mr Modi, I believe; Mr Modi is scheduled to meet the king of Saudi Arabia as well. And so the fact that Mr. Xi is not coming is not simply a fact that he’s not attending G20. It also means that he is not open to these side meetings.”

Students give final touches to a painting of Modi and US President Joe Biden, at an art school in Mumbai. Photo: AFP/Getty Images/TNS alt=Students give final touches to a painting of Modi and US President Joe Biden, at an art school in Mumbai. Photo: AFP/Getty Images/TNS>

Heidi Crebo-Rediker, a former chief economist at the US State Department, described the G20 summit in New Delhi as “particularly strategic” with a “sharp geopolitical backdrop”.

“President Biden will want to support Prime Minister Modi to try and make the G20 as a platform more inclusive and, really, to cement US commitment as a partner to emerging markets,” she said.

Xi’s absence was “a big deal” and “a loss for China”, Crebo-Rediker said: “I think that Xi is trying to downgrade the platform itself by not showing up.”

“The India bilat that will be held ahead of the G20 between Prime Minister Modi and President Biden on the world stage is a great opportunity for both to step into a vacuum that Xi has left in a key relationship,” she added.

Miller, however, cautioned that because of divisions on the Ukraine war, none of the group’s recent ministerial meetings had been able to produce a joint communique of unified purpose. Failure to produce a leaders’ declaration, she said, would be a setback for India’s ambitions.

“If you’re a country that says ‘look, we are the country that can actually be the bridge between the Global South caucus and the Western grouping – and we are unable to bring these countries together.'”

“Well, if you can’t produce a statement that actually speaks to that, you’re a little bit shooting yourself in the foot with a goal that you set for yourself,” she said.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.


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