Xi Jinping's shortage challenges G20's status as an international leadership forum

September 6, 2023: On Monday, Premier Li Qiang will lead China’s board at a G20 summit in New Delhi, China’s foreign ministry said, indicating President Xi Jinping would not attend and scuppering chances of a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden there.

The Sept. 9-10 summit had been seen as a venue for a possible meeting between Xi and Biden, who has confirmed his attendance in New Delhi, following months of efforts by the two powers to stabilize ties frayed by trade and geopolitical tensions.

“The G20 is the center forum for international economic cooperation, and China has always placed great importance on and proactively taken part in such events,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a press conference when asked by a reporter why China’s “leader” would not attend.

Mao declined to directly confirm that Li’s attendance meant that Xi would not go, although she did not correct reporters who made that assertion. Reuters reported exclusively last month that Xi would likely skip the meeting and send Li.

Li leading the delegation at the G20 meeting ensures that Xi will not be going since China would not have its president and premier abroad simultaneously, let alone at the same event.

Biden said on Sunday that he was disappointed Xi was not going to the summit but added that he was going to “get to see him.” Biden did not elaborate.

Xi last met Biden on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Indonesia in November. Germany, Europe’s largest economy, also “regrets” Xi’s decision not to attend, a spokesperson for its government said on Monday.

This will be the first time that a Chinese president has missed a leaders’ summit since the first edition was held in 2008, though in 2020 and 2021, in the COVID-19 pandemic, Xi attended virtually.

Also absent from the New Delhi summit will be Russian President Vladimir Putin, following an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for him over alleged war crimes in Ukraine. Its foreign minister will represent Russia.

The other G20 leaders attending include German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

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