Xi Jinping Will Be a G-20 No-Show
The Chinese leader’s absence from the summit in New Delhi raises questions about political affairs in Beijing.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s China Brief.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s China Brief.
The highlights this week: Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to send his no. 2 in his place to the G-20 summit, the United States imposes new sanctions on Chinese officials over the residential boarding system in Tibet, and major property developer Country Garden avoids a debt default.
Xi to Skip New Delhi’s G-20 Summit
Chinese President Xi Jinping will skip this weekend’s annual G-20 summit in New Delhi, sending Chinese Premier Li Qiang in his place. Since Xi became China’s leader, he has attended every other G-20 summit. Some commentators see the move as a deliberate snub; Beijing has long-standing border tensions with New Delhi that escalated into a brief but deadly clash in 2020. India’s membership in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue alongside Australia, Japan, and the United States has also angered China.
Yet these issues aren’t new, which makes Xi’s absence a little more puzzling. At the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, last month, Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seemed to get along relatively well. In a private meeting, the two leaders nominally agreed to reduce border tensions. It’s possible Xi is irritated with India for lobbying against China’s influence within BRICS as it plans to add six new members.
The tensions may also be related to cartography. After the summit, China’s Ministry of Natural Resources released a new official map that—as usual—included other countries’ territory as part of China, including the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China briefly invaded in 1962 and claims as part of southern Tibet. India protested vehemently, suggesting that New Delhi may perceive the timing of the map’s release as a provocation. Xi’s supposed G-20 snub could be a response to this anger.
However, Xi missing the G-20 summit may have nothing to do with India: It could be that the domestic political situation is just too uncertain for the Chinese leader to leave. After all, Xi didn’t travel beyond China’s borders for more than two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, at least in part due to fear about what could happen in his absence.
Even as Xi has fortified his own power, he has put himself in a tricky position. China’s system of collective leadership, which prevailed for more than two decades, managed to spread both blame and credit among top leadership. Xi’s assumption of complete control makes him an easy target for blame—and given how things are going in China, there’s plenty to go around.
Certainly the fact that foreign and domestic investment is leaving the country seems to reflect a lack of confidence in Xi’s leadership. Getting a glimpse inside the top levels of Chinese politics is difficult, but there are also signs of internal disturbance—from the strange incident where former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Hu Jintao was led out of the 20th Party Congress last October to the mysterious disappearance of former Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang.
On Tuesday, Nikkei Asia reported based on anonymous sourcing that CCP elders reprimanded Xi at the recent party retreat in Beidaihe, and that he responded angrily. There seems to be a lot of wish casting in such stories, which often circulate among more liberally minded figures willing to talk to foreign reporters.
Finally, there is the chance that Xi is simply sick. He also skipped making a scheduled speech at the BRICS summit, and he appeared the next day looking tired or ill. In China’s political system, acknowledging that the leader is sick is impossible—especially given Xi’s complete lack of a successor thanks to purges and his elimination of term limits. Maybe this is one area where China could learn from the United States—sometimes it’s best to just throw up at the banquet.
What We’re Following
New U.S. sanctions. The United States has slapped new sanctions on Chinese officials over the residential boarding school system in Tibet, which follows the model established in Xinjiang: removing children from their families to break cultural and linguistic ties. Around 1 million Tibetan children have been sent to such schools, according to the U.S. statement. As in other areas in China with significant minority populations such as Inner Mongolia, local language teaching in Tibet is being replaced with Mandarin-only education.
China has responded by promising retaliatory sanctions against U.S. officials, but such moves always bite harder when coming from Washington. The Chinese elite still want to send their kids to Western universities and buy property in the West. The sanctions may have also prompted an aggressive Weibo post from China’s Ministry of State Security this week, which accused Washington of wanting to “stir up trouble” in Tibet and the South China Sea.
The post—written in Chinese and directed at a domestic audience—may have been a warning shot from the security service against anyone inclined to accept U.S. diplomatic overtures.
Great Wall damage. Two construction workers in Shaanxi province ran an excavator through a breach in China’s Great Wall while looking for a shortcut, damaging the structure and making national news. It’s hardly the first time that part of the Great Wall has suffered: Only around 8 percent of the structure remains intact, and 30 percent is entirely gone. That’s in part because the Great Wall isn’t actually a continuous structure; it’s a collection of remnants of various fortifications built in different periods for different purposes.
Originally associated with suffering and toil, the Great Wall became a symbol of national pride as a result of the admiration of European travelers—to the degree that the Chinese national anthem, written in 1934, calls upon the people to “with our flesh and blood, build a new great wall.” Despite efforts at passing national protection laws, however, locals have a habit of pillaging the bricks for sale to tourists.
FP’s Most Read This Week
- BRICS Expansion Is No Triumph for China by C. Raja Mohan
- China Is Closing In on Itself by Howard W. French
- The G-7 Becomes a Power Player by G. John Ikenberry
Tech and Business
Country Garden avoids default. Beleaguered Chinese property developer Country Garden made overdue bond payments on Tuesday shortly before it would have defaulted, barely making the 30-day grace period. The state of the company, China’s biggest developer, remains dire. It posted a record loss of $7 billion for the first half of the year amid a crumbling real estate market that makes up as much as 30 percent of China’s GDP.
After years of largely unsuccessful and often rescinded regulations aimed at cooling down the property market, even the largest cities are now trying to reinvigorate it with policies such as preferential loans for first-time buyers, prompting a buying spree that analysts fear will be short-lived. For a long time, observers have assumed that China has the fiscal capacity needed to handle major economic problems, but it is becoming clear that may not be the case.
Chip catch-up. Huawei’s new phone is flying off the shelves, in part because it uses a new type of semiconductor that represents a significant breakthrough for the Chinese chipmaking industry. Until now, Huawei hadn’t been able to make a new 5G-capable phone since 2019 thanks to extensive U.S. chip sanctions; the new chip, made by China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), appears to be 5G-capable.
Local media has heralded the phone as a victory in the tech wars, but analysts warn the chips may only be produced in limited numbers for now. A breakdown of the phone suggests a serious step forward for SMIC’s chipmaking capacity—something predicted months ago. That still puts the company about five years behind cutting-edge technology, but it shows the effort being put into finding a way to compensate for U.S. sanctions through domestic production.
James Palmer is a deputy editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @BeijingPalmer
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