Reuters has reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping may stay away from the New Delhi summit of the G20 nations on September 9 and 10 and depute his Prime Minister Li Qiang to stand in for him.

If the report is correct, as it could well be, it is an early sign that China is mulling the prospect of quitting the G20, or at least loosening its ties with it, because of its growing incompatibility with the US and its fellow travellers including India.

The G20 is a forum comprising nineteen countries with some of the world’s largest economies, as well as the European Union (EU). The member countries are: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States. Spain is invited as a permanent guest.

With the US hell-bent on pursuing Russia over the latter’s invasion of Ukraine and its mounting arms supplies to Ukraine, small wonder the Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to stay away from the Delhi summit and let Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov represent him.

With Russia bearing the brunt of America’s hostility that manifests itself through crippling sanctions, Moscow’s participation in any international forum having the US in it (other than the UN) is becoming increasingly untenable.

Though China is not subjected to sanctions, it also finds it difficult to push its agenda in any organization in which the US is a member (other than the UN).

And for China, the matter is further complicated by the US bolstering India militarily and politically, in a bid to make it checkmate China in South Asia, the Indian Ocean and even the Indo-Pacific.

China sees India as a threat in its immediate vicinity and is therefore using the border issue as a pressure point to make it bend. It is in this context that Xi, despite showing an opening at the BRICS  summit in Johannesburg, banged the window of opportunity shut three days later by getting his government to publish a revised map of China for 2023 showing Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin as part of China.

Though both are long-standing claims, their reiteration so soon after the BRICS summit and so close to the G20 summit, does send the message that China’s stand is still maximalist.

Such a signal from China has already thrown cold water on India’s hopes of normalizing relations with China and Prime Minister Modi’s hope of using that to his advantage in the May 2024 parliamentary elections.

China sees Modi as a strong Indian leader, with growing clout in the world. Modi should therefore be checkmated. Taking the sheen off the G20 summit by Xi’s absence is part of China’s strategy.

This line of thought is shared by Farwa Aamer, Director of South Asia Initiatives at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) in New York. She is quoted by Reuters as saying that Xi’s skipping the summit could be read as China being “reluctant to cede the centre-stage” to India.

“China doesn’t want India to be the voice of the Global South, or to be that country within the Himalayan region to be hosting this very successful G20 summit,” she said.

For both China and Russia, forums like G20 and BRICS have become burdensome, unlike the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) where they are the principal players.

It is not easy to fight the Western lobby’s bid to include a strong condemnation of Russia on the Ukraine issue in joint statements.  Russia would have had a tough time persuading the G20 summit held in Bali in November 2022 to water down its allusion to the Ukraine war.

It must have been a hard time seeing that the G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting in Bengaluru in April 2023 did not issue a joint statement but only the chair’s summary of the proceedings. In that endeavor, China fully backed Russia and India gave tacit support.

Be that as it may, the chairperson’s summary mentioned the West’s strong views on Ukraine even as it added that there were other views and said that the G20 was not the forum to express views on security issues.

In their bid to fortify themselves against the US-led attacks in world forums, both Russia and China are getting friendly nations to become members. Russia has got Iran into BRICS and China pushed the case of Saudi Arabia. G20 could also be expanded if the set criteria are met.

The other strategy that Russia and China might pursue is the strengthening of, or the founding of new organizations in which they will be the top dogs.

China might be more successful in this venture as compared to Russia because of the size of its economy, its financial clout and its eagerness and ability to invest across the globe in expensive infrastructural projects.

However, since China’s economy is strongly tied to the US economy, Xi Jinping is expected to participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Meeting in San Francisco in November, Reuters says. A Xi-Biden meeting could take place there.