If the New Cold War becomes defined by Sino-US systemic rivalry more than anything else in the aftermath of President Xi possibly skipping the upcoming G20 Summit in Delhi, then it might give rise to an unexpected strategic opportunity for Russia.
Reuters cited two Indian officials, one diplomat based in China, and an official working for another G20 country to exclusively report on Friday that President Xi might skip next weekend’s G20 Summit in Delhi. According to their unnamed sources, Premier Li Qiang would take his place in that event, but no reason was shared for this swap. The outlet then went on to say that there wouldn’t be another chance for the Chinese and US leaders to meet until mid-November’s APEC Summit in San Francisco at the earliest.
While Reuters’ report has yet to be officially confirmed, it appears credible considering that India just strongly objected to China’s recent publication of a new map claiming all of their disputed territory. This followed the brief meeting between President Xi and Prime Minister Modi on the sidelines of the recent BRICS Summit in South Africa and represents the latest escalation of their simmering border dispute. Given the sensitivity of this issue, it makes sense why President Xi might skip the G20 Summit.
There’s a precedent of sorts for this too after India decided to hold this summer’s SCO Summit in a virtual format without explaining why. It was argued here at the time that this was almost certainly due to those two’s rising tensions since the start of the year that made it politically impossible for Prime Minister Modi to host President Xi. Even if the Chinese leader would have traveled to India, no bilateral meeting would likely have taken place, and this could have led to speculation about the SCO’s future.
For that reason, India decided to host the event online in order to reduce the chances that its dispute with China would damage the group’s unity as a whole. Their virtual summit was still a success since “The SCO States Agreed On The Contours Of The Emerging World Order”, just like the recent BRICS Summit was as well after the bloc more than doubled in size despite the Sino-Indo rift. Precedent therefore suggests that the G20 Summit will also be a success even if President Xi doesn’t attend.
He wouldn’t be the only world leader that stays home, however, after Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov recently announced that President Putin won’t travel to India. This decision was analyzed here and constructively critiqued here. In short, elite policymaking circles appear to have advised the Russian leader that their country has more to gain by signaling its full support for the New BRICS’ efforts to reform the global financial system than extending credence to the G20 by attending its next summit.
For as well-intentioned as this approach may be, it inadvertently overlooked the interests of Russia’s close Indian partners, who expected to host him this whole time as the ultimate display of their hard-earned strategic autonomy in the New Cold War. Readers can learn more about India’s envisaged role in the global systemic transition and the worldwide competition that this process sparked between the West’s Golden Billion and the Sino–Russo Entente here since it’s beyond the scope of this piece.
The most relevant insight is that India plans to informally assemble a new Non-Aligned Movement (“Neo-NAM”) via its recently launched Voice Of Global South (VOGS) platform for the purpose of leading and optimizing developing countries’ balancing acts between those two aforesaid de facto blocs. That being the case, India sincerely wanted Presidents Putin and Xi to attend this year’s G20 Summit that it’ll host next weekend in Delhi, but the first already declined while the second is likely to do so too.
Although the Chinese leader’s decision would be due to the latest escalation of tensions with India and not because he wants to signal full support for the New BRICS like President Putin was arguably advised to do, the Golden Billion would still interpret it as the Sino-Russo Entente disengaging from the G20. It doesn’t matter that Beijing might dispatch Premier Li and Moscow already announced that it’ll send Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov since the absence of both their leaders would be too conspicuous.
China remains in a relationship of complex mutual economic-financial-technological interdependence with the Golden Billion and has vehemently opposed the US’ self-interested zero-sum attempts to advance their so-called “decoupling”. The last thing that it wants is to spook the Europeans into thinking that it’s disengaging from the G20 in favor of the New BRICS since this could unintentionally fuel the US’ information warfare campaign aimed at convincing them to follow its “decoupling” lead.
Nevertheless, this outcome might be unavoidable if President Xi skips next weekend’s summit due the latest escalation of tensions with India. If that happens, and considering that the New BRICS is expected to accelerate the internationalization of the yuan as was explained here, then the stage would be set for bifurcating the G20. In fact, Lavrov thinks that this is already unfolding after he recently observed that “The formal division of the G20 into the G7 plus and BRICS+ is now taking shape in practice.”
Bifurcating the G20 between the G7+ and BRICS+ won’t lead to a return of Old Cold War-era bipolarity, but it’ll definitely impede emerging multipolar processes, thus leading to the onset of what can be described as “bi-multipolarity” or a return to that order depending on one’s perspective. India’s goal of informally leading the Global South would become more difficult as a result of systemic pressures, but it might also paradoxically become easier too.
To elaborate, the collection of neutral countries that India envisages leading through its VOGS/Neo-NAM platform would be pressured by circumstances into siding more closely with the Golden Billion or the Sino-Russo Entente, with this being a choice between the US and China for all intents and purposes. At the same time, they might also be inspired to double down on their balancing acts in response, especially if India leads the way by functioning as the bridge between the G7+ and BRICS+ at the G20.
If the New Cold War becomes defined by Sino-US systemic rivalry more than anything else in the aftermath of President Xi possibly skipping the upcoming G20 Summit in Delhi as was argued throughout this piece, then it might give rise to an unexpected strategic opportunity for Russia. The US would be pressured into freezing or at least de-escalating the proxy war in Ukraine so as to focus more on containing its Chinese systemic rival in the Asia-Pacific instead of its regional Russian one in Europe.
President Putin’s olive branch earlier this summer, the failure of Kiev’s counteroffensive, and the vicious blame game that’s toxifying US-Ukrainian ties are already moving everything in that direction, but this could be greatly sped up by President Xi’s absence at the G20 Summit. The Golden Billion would be inclined to interpret this as China throwing down the financial gauntlet and react accordingly per its US leader’s suggestions, with this prompting them to prioritize China’s containment over Russia’s.
Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy’s pragmatic plan for ending the proxy war was shared at the perfect time and could form the parameters of a potential Russian-American deal to this end as discussed here if the latter’s representatives have the political will to table some of his proposals. In the scenario that tangible progress is made and Russia is relieved of some Western pressure, the Kremlin could then more effectively help India counteract bi-multipolarity processes via the Neo-NAM.
Should this sequence of events transpire, then the global systemic transition would return to its present track of complex multipolarity (“multiplexity”) after a brief bi-multipolar interruption instead of barreling along the latter trajectory to the detriment of Russia, India, and the Global South’s sovereignty. Everything is in flux so a lot could still happen to offset the preceding prediction, but the possibility of President Xi skipping the G20 Summit will likely be a lot more significant than most folks realize.