The 18th G20 Leader’s Summit was held in New Delhi, India on 9-10 September 2023. The leaders of the 19 countries and the European Union attended the meeting. In place of Xi Jinping, Chinese Premier Li Qiang attended the meeting. This is the first time that a Chinese President has skipped a G20 meeting.
The paper examines Chinese participation in the G20 Summit hosted in New Delhi.
Even before the Leaders’ Summit, China expressed its dissent over the usage of the Sanskrit phrase ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ at the bottom of the Indian Presidency’s G20 logo and was reluctant to accept the term in the outcome document in July 2023. They argued that the G20 documents could not use the term ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ in the official text as it is in Sanskrit, which is not one of the six official languages recognised by the United Nations.[i] The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson explained that “The theme of India’s G-20 Presidency in English is One Earth, One Family, One Future. This is based on our civilisational ethos of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ which has received widespread support and permeates many of the initiatives that India has brought on to the G-20 agenda”.[ii]
Xi Jinping conveniently missed the Summit without giving any valid explanation for his absence. On 9 September 2023, he was not in Beijing and was seen in Heilongjiang province of China, wherein he talked about “writing a new chapter” in striving for the full revitalization of northeast China. His absence resulted in several conjectures and speculation. The first reason of his absence could have been domestic preoccupation. Currently, China is facing several economic, political and social problems. There are floods in China that has led food shortage. Xi Jinping might have thought of “setting his own agenda where his top concern is national security and he has to stay in China and make foreign leaders visit him instead.” [iii] Second, the developments in the Beidaihe meeting held in August could have been a precursor.[iv] The inner circle attending the Beidaihe meeting might have decided that since there could be a discussion at the G20 Summit on economic-related issues, Li Qiang, who is in charge of China’s economy, should represent the country. In a similar incident, at a business forum held on the sidelines of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit that was held immediately after the Beideihe meeting, Xi Jinping was absent. His speech was read in absentia, by Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao.[v] Third, South China Morning Post in an opinion piece titled “With Xi’s G20 no-show, China is quietly pushing back against the US” speculates that it could be a symbolic gesture in the context of strained US-China relations. Probably Xi Jinping is trying to avoid a meeting with Joe Biden. While on the other side Joe Biden said he was “disappointed” that Xi Jinping is not attending the meeting.[vi] Fourth, the ongoing tension in India-China relations and the release of the latest map of China that shows parts of India in its territory.[vii] China’s Ministry of Natural Resources released a map that asserted jurisdiction over the entire northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and the Aksai Chin region. The release of map by China was just ahead of the G20 Summit. In response, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs of India retorted by saying that “We have today lodged a strong protest through diplomatic channels with the China side on the so called 2023” standard map” of China that lays claim to India’s territory.” He added, “We reject these claims as they have no basis. Such steps by the Chinese side only complicate the resolution of the boundary question.” [viii]
Chinese Participation and Reaction to G20 Summit
Premier Li Qiang of the State Council attended and addressed the third session of the Summit. In his speech, he reiterated that the agenda of the session is “One Future”. In his speech, he stressed that G20 members should play an exemplary role in development. He said: “The G20 members should place the issue of development at the centre of macro-policy coordination, establish more practical cooperation mechanisms, take concrete actions and support developing countries in better addressing development challenges such as poverty reduction, fundraising, climate change, food and energy security”, [ix] in an attempt to champion the cause of the Global South in the backdrop of India’s Voice of the South Summit initiative in the run up to the G20 Summit.
China agreed to the G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration and there was no objection from the Chinese side.[x] India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishanker said “China was very supportive of the various outcomes and it is only because the members were supportive and enthusiastic and collaborative, that we were actually able to get this.” [xi] However, it is widely acknowledged that it was difficult for a consensus to be reached at the G20 Summit. With speculation that it will be even harder for the parties involved to take collective actions.[xii]
On African Union’s (AU) inclusion in the G20, India was the first country to advocate AU’s participation and PM Modi proposed the inclusion of AU which was accepted by all the members. China appreciated the inclusion of African Union in the G20. The spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said “China is the first country that explicitly expressed its support for the AU’s membership in the G20”. [xiii]
A proposal to build an economic corridor linking the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor was announced at the sidelines of the Summit.[xiv] China was critical of the connectivity project announced at the Summit and called it a “grand US rail plan might be another road going to nowhere”. An editorial in Global Times mentioned that the US is trying to reduce China’s influence in the Middle East. They call it a “political tool, rather than a pure infrastructure project”.[xv] China was also critical of the role of the US in G20 and called the US “the spoiler of the Summit”. An editorial in Global Times, “Who is the ‘spoiler’ of the G20 summit in New Delhi? : Global Times editorial”, stated the US is creating division and conflicts among the G20 members.[xvi]
The China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (A Think Tank under the Ministry of State Security, China) published a commentary on WeChat criticising India and subsequent developments of the G20. It stated that “in addition to causing diplomatic turmoil and public opinion turmoil, India’s actions in hosting meetings in disputed territories ‘stole the spotlight’, sabotaging the cooperative atmosphere of the G20 meeting and hindering the achievement of substantive results”. [xvii] India has already conveyed its displeasure with China on its new Map. Also, it may be noted that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Further, it is customary on part of the host country to showcase the diversity of the country to the delegates.
On the flip side, it may be noted, that China has denied visa to the sportsperson from Arunachal Pradesh without giving any valid reason. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning stated “China welcomes athletes from all countries to the Games using legal identification. The Chinese government has never recognised so-called “Arunachal”.”[xviii] Responding to the development, the Ministry of External Affairs of India said; “In line with our long-standing and consistent position, India firmly rejects differential treatment of Indian citizens on the basis of domicile or ethnicity. Arunachal Pradesh was, is and will always remain an integral and inalienable part of India.” [xix]
Also, Lan Jianxue from China Institute of International Studies in a commentary titled “Reality and delusion of India’s ‘great power dream’ from the G20 New Delhi Summit” in Global Times, wrote that “it is understandable that India wants to use the G20 Summit stage to demonstrate its status as a major power and shape an international order that is favourable to itself”. [xx] It may be noted that India hosted a successful summit in presence of key International Leaders and also reached on a joint declaration. This is a diplomatic success for India.
*Dr Teshu Singh is a Research Fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi
Views expressed are personal.
[i] Anubhuti Vishnoi and Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, China objects to ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam’ mention in G20 papers, the Economic Times, 8 August 2023, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/china-objects-to-vasudhaiva-kutumbkam-mention-in-g20-papers/articleshow/102511445.cms?from=mdr
(Accessed on 14 September 2023).
[ii] Suhasini Haidar, Centre defends use of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam in G-20 logo as China raises objections, The Hindu, 11 August 2023, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/centre-defends-use-of-vasudhaiva-kutumbakam-in-g-20-as-china-raises-objections/article67184856.ece (Accessed on 14 September 2023).
[iii] Aniruddha Dhar, G20 Summit: Five reasons why China's Xi Jinping is not visiting India, Hindustan Times, 5 September 2023, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/g20-summit-five-reasons-why-chinas-xi-jinping-is-not-visiting-india-101693896619561.html (Accessed on 25 September 2023).
[iv] Every summer incumbent Chinese Communist Party leaders and retired party elders get together at the seaside resort of Beidehe, Hebei province, to informally discuss important issues behind closed doors.
[v] Katsuji Nakazawa, Analysis: Xi reprimanded by elders at Beidaihe over direction of nation, Nikkie Asia, 5 September 2023, https://asia.nikkei.com/Editor-s-Picks/China-up-close/Analysis-Xi-reprimanded-by-elders-at-Beidaihe-over-direction-of-nation#:~:text=The%20turmoil%20has%20worried%20many,in%20the%20suburbs%20of%20Beijing.
(Accessed on 14 September 2023).
[vi] Terry Su, With Xi’s G20 no-show, China is quietly pushing back against the US, South China Morning Post, 7 September 2023, https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3233489/xis-g20-no-show-china-quietly-pushing-back-against-us (Accessed on 13 September 2023).
[vii] Ma Zhenhuan, 2023 edition of national map released, China Daily, 28 August 2023, https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202308/28/WS64ec91c2a31035260b81ea5b.html (Accessed on 12 September 2023).
[viii] Official Spokesperson’s response to media queries on the so called 2023 “standard map” of China, 29 August 2023, https://www.mea.gov.in/response-to-queries.htm?dtl/37059/Official+Spokespersons+response+to+media+queries+on+the+so+called+2023+standard+map+of+China , (Accessed on 14 September 2023).
[ix] Li Qiang Attends the Third Session of the 18th G20 Summit, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/202309/t20230911_11141142.html#:~:text=On%20the%20morning%20of%20September,session%20is%20%22One%20Future%22.
(Accessed on 14 September 2023).
[x] G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration,https://www.mea.gov.in/Images/CPV/G20-New-Delhi-Leaders-Declaration.pdf (Accessed on 11 September 2023).
[xi] Transcript of Press briefing by G20 Presidency (September 09, 2023), 10 September 2023, https://www.mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/37093/Transcript+of+Press+briefing+by+G20+Presidency+September+09+2023
(Accessed on 25 September 2023).
[xii] Song Qingrun, The 18th G20 Leaders' Summit: A mix of optimism and concern, CGTN,11 September 2023, https://news.cgtn.com/news/2023-09-11/The-18th-G20-Leaders-Summit-A-mix-of-optimism-and-concern-1n0T09kQTWo/index.html (Accessed on 12 September 2023).
[xiii] G20 agrees to grant permanent membership to African Union, China Daily, 9 September, https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202309/09/WS64fc0657a310d2dce4bb4d86.html (Accessed on 15 September 2023)
[xiv] PIB, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1956076 (Accessed on 11 September 2023).
[xv] GT Voice: Grand US rail plan might be another road going to nowhere, Global Times, 11 September 2023, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202309/1297999.shtml (Accessed on 15 September 2023).
[xvi] Who is the ‘spoiler’ of the G20 summit in New Delhi?: Global Times editorial, Global Times, 9 September 2023, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202309/1297861.shtml (Accessed on 15 September 2023).
[xvii] China think tank says India is 'sabotaging' G20 for its own agenda, Reuters, 9 September 2023,
https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/china-think-tank-says-india-is-sabotaging-g20-its-own-agenda-2023-09-09/ (Accessed on 15 September 2023).
[xviii] Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning’s Regular Press Conference on September 22, 2023, 22 September2023, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/2511_665403/202309/t20230922_11148201.html
(Accessed on 25 September 2023).
[xix] Official Spokesperson’s response to media queries on some Indian sportspersons being denied entry into 19th Asian Games, 22 September2023, https://www.mea.gov.in/response-to-queries.htm?dtl/37142/Official+Spokespersons+response+to+media+queries+on+some+Indian+sportspersons+being+denied+entry+into+19th+Asian+Games
(Accessed on 25 September 2023).
[xx] Lan Jianxue, Reality and delusion of India’s ‘great power dream’ from G20 New Delhi Summit, the Global Times, 12 September, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202309/1298054.shtml (Accessed on 15 September 2023).