Premier Li Qiang will head China’s team to the G20 conference in New Delhi this weekend, China’s foreign ministry announced on Monday, confirming that President Xi Jinping will not go and thereby ruling out a meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden.
The Sept. 9-10 summit had been viewed as a prospective site for a meeting between Xi and Biden, who has confirmed his presence in New Delhi after months of attempts by the two nations to repair ties damaged by trade and geopolitical issues.
“The G20 is the main forum for international economic cooperation, and China has always placed great importance on and actively participated in such events,” Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a news conference when asked why.
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 was likely to skip the meeting and send Li.
Li leading the delegation at the G20 meeting makes it all but certain that Xi will not be going since China would not have both its president and premier abroad at the same time, 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.
This will be the first time that Xi will have missed the annual G20 summit since he became leader of the ruling Communist Party in 2012.
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. Russia will be represented by its foreign minister.
The other G20 leaders attending include German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Xi’s absence also could be seen as a snub of host India, say some analysts who suggest it could be a signal that China is unwilling to confer influence on its southern neighbour that boasts one of the fastest growing major economies while China’s slows.
The G20 summit is seen as an important showcase for India, days after it conducted a successful lunar landing. India presents itself as a rising power with attractive markets and a source for global supply chain diversification.
Ties between India and China have been troubled for more than three years after soldiers from both sides clashed on their disputed Himalayan frontier in June 2020, resulting in 24 deaths.