Advertisement

Analysis-Xi skipping G20 summit seen as new setback to India-China ties

FILE PHOTO: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China's President Xi Jinping attend a BRICS summit meeting in Johannesburg

By YP Rajesh, Krishn Kaushik and Martin Quin Pollard

NEW DELHI/BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping's decision to skip the G20 summit is being seen in host India as a snub to New Delhi and a new setback to the already frozen relations between the nuclear-armed Asian giants.

Neither country has commented on Xi deciding to stay away, but analysts said the decision added to existing irritants, including a military stand-off on their Himalayan border and India insisting that the rest of the relationship cannot move forward without a resolution on the frontier.

A thaw in bilateral ties seems distant, they said.

India's foreign ministry spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday on Beijing's decision to send Premier Li Qiang for the Sept. 9-10 summit instead of Xi.

Asked if Xi's decision reflects China-India tensions, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said that Beijing had supported India's hosting of the summit. China-India relations "remain stable" and Beijing is willing to work with New Delhi to better them, Mao added.

Although Indian government officials have in private sought to play down Xi's absence saying leaders skip summits for their own reasons, a senior member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the decision showed Beijing's discomfort with India's economic rise.

“As far as China is concerned, they often show a degree of petulance,” BJP vice president Baijayant Jay Panda said when asked about Xi's absence.

"It may be hard for them to swallow that for four decades they were the fastest growing economy and now it is India,” he said.

Relations between India and China nosedived after soldiers from both sides clashed in the western Himalayas in June 2020, resulting in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese troops.

Several rounds of military and diplomatic talks have since brought some calm on the nearly 3,000-km (1,860-mile) frontier, but the face-off continues in a few pockets.

India wants disengagement at two more disputed points and a return to positions held before the summer of 2020. Meanwhile, both militaries have amassed tens of thousands of soldiers, arms and equipment in the mountains.

DIFFERENT VERSIONS

Modi and Xi spoke on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg last month but versions of the conversation put out by the two countries on tackling the border issue differed, another sign of how they do not see eye to eye.

India said the two leaders had agreed to direct their officials to work towards a speedy resolution to the border conflict in the western Himalayas.

China did not refer to any agreement and said Xi stressed improving ties helps both countries and global peace and stability.

New Delhi has meanwhile moved closer to the United States and taken steps to bar Chinese companies from critical tech and telecoms businesses since 2020, riling Beijing in the process.

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at China's Renmin University, said the major issues between China and India include the military confrontation in the Himalayas and India's participation in the four-nation Quad grouping.

Beijing sees the Quad, which includes the U.S., Japan, Australia and India, as inimical to China.

"It (India) displays stronger opposition to China’s claims over South China Sea, and more broadly builds up its navy fleets to compete with China...escalates bans or strict restriction against China’s tech exports and direct investment to India," Shi said.

These problems between the two have existed for years and are expected to linger, he added.

Shyam Saran, formerly India's top diplomat, said Xi's decision to skip the summit was "unusual".

"It would have been better from our point of view if he had attended," Saran told Reuters, but added that his absence will not make the summit any less successful.

Happymon Jacob, who teaches international relations at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, said Xi skipping the G20 summit "doesn't bode well" for India-China relations.

"This is bad news for India-China relations. We will not see summits or even chance meetings between the two sides," Jacob said.

"This indicates a certain sense in China that they are not going to be as friendly or conciliatory to India for a long time."

(Additional reporting by Liz Lee in Beijing)