G20 meeting
G20 meetingReuters

Dr. Salem AlKetbi is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate

China was absent from the G20 summit that India recently hosted — a new indicator of the worsening state of international division and polarization. This absence is a serious sign of dwindling opportunities for understanding and reaching solutions related to the global economy.

It also indicates that China now has the discretion and self-initiative to boycott major international summits and meetings where it believes its interests and self-goals will not be guaranteed.

A meeting of the world’s largest economies without China poses a dilemma for the participants. It is difficult to reach collective decisions that ensure the stability of the global economy and address growing challenges. This absence also conveys political messages, as the G20 is the only international institutional framework that reflects international pluralism and collaborative decision-making in the absence of any effective role for the UN and its institutions, such as the Security Council.

In contrast to the diminishing prospects for consensus within the G20, China could invest in another international group that it may deem more effective in achieving its future goals. This group is BRICS, which recently welcomed several influential regional countries, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Iran.

These signs of escalating international polarization and tensions explain the recent statement by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres regarding the disintegration of the global system and the danger it poses to the world. Everyone already recognizes this reality, and they are closely monitoring its developments and consequences. However, the statement from the highest UN official about this trend may confirm that it has become a tangible reality, prompting him to sound the alarm to alert the world to its expected negative repercussions, in his view.

China’s absence from the G20 summit has raised numerous questions about its reasons, most of which revolve around specific issues, including the stance on the war in Ukraine. The summit faced difficulties in establishing a common position on the crisis, to the extent that Russia had previously stated that Western interference in the recent Bali summit of the group indicated the challenge of replicating the same position as that summit. The statement from the Bali summit stressed that most of the member countries of the G20 “strongly condemn the war in Ukraine” and consider that this conflict “undermines the global economy.”

Another crucial point for China is that it sees India as betting on hosting the summit to enhance its status as an international power capable of representing the Global South against Western influence. This is a role that China itself is fully committed to through BRICS. At the same time, it recognizes that the West is inclined to strengthen Indian influence to counter China’s global rise. Therefore, China is unlikely to achieve what it wants from the summit in this highly polarized atmosphere.

The US is also seeking to undermine China’s role and influence in the Global South. Therefore, President Xi Jinping’s absence is an opportunity for the US to support India’s influence and gain new ground in its competition with China on this front. This explains National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s statement, in which he considered President Xi’s absence an attempt to disrupt Narendra Modi’s big moment. India has announced a seat for the African Union at the G20 summit, as Africa seeks to make its voice heard globally.

China has its own precise strategic calculations and assessments. It recognizes American interest in supporting Indian Prime Minister Modi within the framework of the strategic rivalry with neighboring China over influence. Washington made persistent efforts to ensure the summit’s success through what has been described as an “valuable offer” to ease debt restructuring and climate crisis measures.

The G20 represents 85% of the total global GDP, 75% of the global trade volume, and two-thirds of the world’s population.

China’s absence from one of the most crucial international meetings serves as a new example of the intensifying struggle for leadership in the global system and China’s position within it. Beijing wants to send strong messages about its role and presence within a framework of a multilateral leadership system. Meanwhile, the US aims to disrupt this message within the context of its competition with China and its attempt to demonstrate its capacity to lead the global system.