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China’s President Xi is set to skip the G20 summit in India at a time of strained bilateral relations

BEIJING (AP) – Chinese President Xi Jinping appears to be skipping this week’s G20 summit in India as bilateral relations remain frigid.

Instead, Premier Li Qiang will represent China at the Sept. 9-10 meeting, the Foreign Ministry said in a one-sentence statement on its website on Monday.

Relations between China and India have grown chilly over their disputed border, and three years ago tensions led to a clash in the Ladakh region that killed 20 Indians and four soldiers. A protracted standoff ensued in the rugged mountainous region, where each side has deployed tens of thousands of military personnel, supported by artillery, tanks and fighter jets.

Tensions have also increased over trade and India’s growing strategic ties with China’s main competitor, the United States. Both India and China have expelled each other’s journalists.

India recently overtook China as the world’s most populous country and the two are rivals in technology, space exploration and world trade.

When asked why Xi would not attend the summit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning declined to answer.

“The G20 is an important forum for international economic cooperation. “China has always attached great importance to relevant activities and actively participated in them,” Mao told reporters at a daily briefing.

“Prime Minister Li Qiang will explain China’s views and proposals on G20 cooperation, promote the G20 to strengthen solidarity and cooperation, and work together to address global economic and development challenges,” she said.

She said China is willing to work with all parties “to jointly promote the success of the G20 summit and make positive contributions to promoting the stable recovery of the world economy and promoting sustainable development.”

Chinese and Indian military commanders met just last month and vowed to “maintain peace and tranquility along their disputed border,” apparently in a mutual effort to stabilize the situation.

The Line of Effective Control separates Chinese- and Indian-held areas from Ladakh in the west to the eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in full. India and China fought a war over their border in 1962. As the name suggests, the line separates areas of physical control rather than territorial claims.

According to India, the de facto border is 3,488 kilometers (2,167 miles) long, while China advocates a significantly shorter figure.

In all, China claims about 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 sq mi) of territory in northeastern India, including Arunachal Pradesh with its predominantly Buddhist population.

India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 sq mi) of its territory on the Aksai Chin Plateau, which India considers part of Ladakh, where the current confrontation is taking place.

Meanwhile, China began cementing ties with India’s arch-rival Pakistan and backing it over disputed Kashmir.

Gunfights broke out again in 1967 and 1975, resulting in more casualties on both sides. They have since passed protocols, including an agreement not to use firearms, but those protocols have been broken.

Aside from the potential impact on China-India relations, Xi’s absence from the summit will also preclude the possibility of interaction with US President Joe Biden. China-US relations remain at an all-time low despite recent visits to Beijing by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other officials.

Xi has amassed more power at home than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, and is taking an increasingly aggressive approach to what he sees as Chinese territorial interests in the South China Sea and to self-governing Taiwan, which China threatens to annex by force should the need arise.

At the same time, China is finding it difficult to recover economically from tough policies to fight COVID-19. Foreign companies are also complaining about an increasingly difficult environment for investment and trade with the country.

Xi will not be the only foreign leader absent from the summit. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is accused of war crimes over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will also miss the summit, although he plans to visit his close partner China next month.

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