Chinese President Xi Jinping is apparently skipping this week’s Group of 20 summit in India as bilateral relations remain icy.
Instead, Premier Li Qiang will represent China at the Sept. 9-10 gathering, the Foreign Ministry said Monday in a one-sentence notice on its website.
Relations between China and India have grown frosty over their disputed border, and three years ago the tensions resulted in a clash in the Ladakh region that killed 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers. It turned into a long-running standoff in the rugged mountainous area, where each side has stationed tens of thousands of military personnel backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets.
Frictions have also risen over trade and India’s growing strategic ties with China’s main rival, the United States. Both India and China have expelled the other’s journalists.
India recently overtook China as the world’s most populous nation and the two are rivals in technology, space exploration and global trade.
Asked why Xi would not be attending the summit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning declined to answer.
“The G20 is a major forum for international economic cooperation. China has always attached great importance to and actively participated in relevant activities,” Mao told reporters at a daily briefing.
“Premier Li Qiang will elaborate on China’s views and propositions on G20 cooperation, promote the G20 to strengthen solidarity and cooperation and work together to address global economic and development challenges,” she said.
She said China is ready to work with all parties “to jointly promote the success of the G20” summit and “make positive contributions to promoting the stable recovery of the world economy and promoting sustainable development.”
Chinese and Indian military commanders met just last month and pledged to “maintain the peace and tranquility” along their disputed border, in an apparent effort by the sides to stabilize the situation.
The Line of Actual Control separates Chinese- and Indian-held territories from Ladakh in the west to India’s eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in its entirety. India and China fought a war over their border in 1962. As its name suggests, the line divides the areas of physical control rather than territorial claims.
According to India, the de facto border is 3,488 kilometers long, but China promotes a considerably shorter figure.
In all, China claims some 90,000 square kilometers of territory in India’s northeast, including Arunachal Pradesh with mainly Buddhist population.
India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometers of its territory in the Aksai Chin Plateau, which India considers part of Ladakh, where the current faceoff is happening.
China, in the meantime, began cementing relations with India’s archrival Pakistan and backing it on the issue of disputed Kashmir.
Firefights broke out again in 1967 and 1975, leading to more deaths on both sides. They’ve since adopted protocols, including an agreement not to use firearms, but those protocols have fractured.
Other than the potential effects on China-India relations, Xi’s absence at the summit will also eliminate the possibility of an interaction with U.S. President Joe Biden. China-U.S. relations remain at a historic low despite recent visits by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other officials to Beijing.
Xi has accumulated more power at home than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong and has adopted an increasingly aggressive approach to what he views as China’s territorial interests in the South China Sea and toward self-governing Taiwan, which China threatens to annex by force if necessary.
At the same time, China has struggled to recover economically from the hard-line policies it took to control COVID-19. Foreign businesses also have complained of an increasingly difficult environment in which to invest in and trade with the country.
Xi will not be the only foreign head of state absent from the summit. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who faces war crimes charges over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will also be skipping the summit, although he does plan to visit close partner China next month.