Premier Li Qiang to Represent China as Bilateral Relations with India Remain Frosty

In a surprising turn of events, Chinese President Xi Jinping will not attend this week’s Group of 20 (G20) summit in India, with Premier Li Qiang set to represent China at the September 9-10 gathering. The Chinese Foreign Ministry made this announcement through a concise one-sentence notice on its official website.

Strained Relations: Power Struggles Define China-India Relations

The decision comes against increasingly strained relations between China and India, primarily stemming from the ongoing territorial dispute along their shared border. Notably, three years ago, this friction erupted into a deadly clash in the Ladakh region, resulting in the loss of 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers. Since then, a prolonged standoff has persisted in this rugged mountainous area, with both sides deploying substantial military forces, including artillery, tanks, and fighter jets.

Tensions between the two Asian giants have not been confined to territorial disputes alone. Friction has also escalated concerning trade matters and India’s burgeoning strategic alliance with China’s primary global rival, the United States. This rivalry has even led to the expulsion of each other’s journalists.

India’s recent emergence as the world’s most populous nation has added another layer of competition to this complex relationship. The two countries are vying for dominance in technology, space exploration, and global trade.

Why Xi Won’t Attend: An Unanswered Question

When asked about President Xi’s absence at the G20 summit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning declined to provide a specific reason but emphasized China’s commitment to international economic cooperation through the G20. Mao stated:

“Premier Li Qiang will elaborate on China’s views and propositions on G20 cooperation, promote the G20 to strengthen solidarity and cooperation, and work together to address global economic and development challenges.”

Mao further expressed China’s readiness to collaborate with all parties to ensure the success of the G20 summit and contribute positively to the global economic recovery and sustainable development.

A Delicate Border Situation

Recent talks between Chinese and Indian military commanders, held just last month, resulted in pledges to “maintain peace and tranquility” along their disputed border in an apparent effort to stabilize the situation. The Line of Actual Control, which runs from Ladakh in the west to India’s eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, remains the focal point of contention. China lays claim to the entirety of Arunachal Pradesh, while India disputes this assertion. It is important to note that India and China fought a border war in 1962, and the Line of Actual Control represents areas of physical control rather than territorial claims.

India claims the de facto border extends for 3,488 kilometers (2,167 miles), whereas China promotes a considerably shorter figure. In total, China asserts sovereignty over approximately 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) of territory in India’s northeast, including Arunachal Pradesh. Conversely, India contends that China occupies 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of its territory in the Aksai Chin Plateau, which India considers a part of Ladakh—where the current faceoff persists.

While India and China have previously adopted protocols to minimize the risk of conflict, including an agreement not to use firearms, these agreements have become increasingly fragile. This border situation has implications not only for China-India relations but also for global geopolitics.

China’s Diplomatic Dilemma: Missed Opportunities and Mixed Signals

Notably, President Xi’s absence at the G20 summit eliminates the possibility of an interaction with United States President Joe Biden. China-US relations remain at a historic low despite recent visits by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other officials to Beijing. Speculation regarding Xi’s nonattendance had been circulating for days, and President Biden had already expressed his expectations of not meeting with the Chinese leader. This development also raises questions about Xi’s attendance at the November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum leader’s gathering in San Francisco.

China has demanded that the US extend an invitation to Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee to the forum, despite a US visa ban on Lee due to his role in suppressing Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

A post on the Ministry of State Security’s social media site accused the US of sending mixed signals to China as part of a strategy of “obstruction, containment, and suppression.” The post highlighted the need for sincerity in bilateral relations, referencing the most recent meeting between the two leaders at last November’s G20 summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.

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Xi Jinping’s Leadership and China’s Global Posture

President Xi Jinping, who holds more domestic power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, has pursued an increasingly assertive approach to China’s territorial interests in the South China Sea and towards Taiwan, which China threatens to annex by force if necessary.

Simultaneously, China has faced economic challenges as it seeks to recover from the stringent COVID-19 control measures. Foreign businesses have also voiced concerns about the increasingly complex environment for investment and trade in the country.

Putin ALSO Skips G20 Summit

It’s important to note that President Xi will not be the only foreign head of state absent from the G20 summit. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who faces war crimes charges over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will also skip the summit, although he does plan to visit close partner China next month.


Wrapping up, President Xi Jinping’s decision to skip the G20 summit in India and the appointment of Premier Li Qiang as his replacement reflect the escalating tensions in China-India relations, driven by territorial disputes, trade frictions, and strategic rivalries.

Xi’s absence also highlights the challenges in China-US relations, eliminating the prospect of an essential meeting with President Biden. The delicate border situation between China and India remains a critical concern with broader regional implications.

China’s demand for Hong Kong’s inclusion in international forums and allegations of mixed signals from the US adds to China’s diplomatic challenges. President Xi’s assertive approach to territorial disputes and economic difficulties further complicates China’s global posture.

Meanwhile, the absence of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit underscores the complex diplomatic landscape faced by global leaders. Overall, these developments signal a shifting geopolitical landscape in Asia and beyond.