BEIJING – President Xi Jinping dominated China’s news agenda despite his absence from the Group of 20 summit in India, with Premier Li Qiang’s attendance in his place receiving scant coverage by official media.
Although Mr Xi did not make a public appearance or engage in any official meetings over the weekend, state media gave his earlier trip to north-eastern Heilongjiang province wall-to-wall coverage.
Reports highlighted the Chinese leader’s inspection of a military facility, while newspapers gave letters that Mr Xi sent to world leaders and others prominent play.
On Sunday, Mr Xi monopolised the first two pages of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece.
In contrast, Mr Li, the first Chinese premier to attend a G-20 summit, was relegated to the fourth page for a speech he delivered and meetings on the sidelines with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Dr Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission.
The first 20 minutes of a half-hour evening news program on state TV were devoted to Mr Xi, whereas Mr Li got less than four for his dealings at the leaders’ summit.
Mr Xi’s decision to skip the G-20 gave Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi a chance to boost his nation’s influence.
India founded a biofuel alliance with the United States and Brazil, while the US signed an agreement with India, Middle Eastern countries and the European Union to link them via a network of railways and sea routes.
Mr Li also held just four bilateral meetings, with Ms Meloni, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Dr von der Leyen and Mr Charles Michel, president of the European Council, according to statements from China’s Foreign Ministry. US President Joe Biden said during a trip to Vietnam on Sunday that he also met with Mr Li at the G-20.
In contrast, Mr Xi met 11 heads of state at the G-20 summit in Bali last year. Symbolising the low profile Mr Li kept at the summit, he was left out in a video clip that Mr Modi posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that showed heads of states arriving for the opening of the event.
The few meetings that Mr Li held did not yield any wins for China.
Ms Meloni told him that Italy plans to withdraw from Mr Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative while still looking to maintain friendly relations with Beijing, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named. At a press conference, Ms Meloni said she spoke to Mr Li about the BRI, but a decision had yet to be made.
Mr Sunak told Mr Li he was concerned about “interference” from Beijing, hours after it emerged that two men had been arrested in Britain for allegedly spying for China.
While Mr Li’s arrival in New Delhi was streamed on the official summit feed and reposted by some users on social media platform Weibo, the Chinese embassy in India simply posted a photo of an airplane to announce Mr Li’s landing.
The summit itself did not get much play in Chinese official media. State broadcaster CCTV had a one-liner on the summit opening. The addition of the African Union to the bloc was given some airtime, although the joint communique adopted a day earlier was only picked up by state television on Sunday afternoon, after the summit’s close.
Hours before the gathering began, a think tank linked to China’s Ministry of State Security published a strongly worded criticism of India, accusing the G-20 host of pushing its own agenda and causing disagreements.
Mr Xi has also hogged the news limelight with letters and messages. On Saturday, he sent a congratulatory letter to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un on the 75th anniversary of the country’s founding. He also wrote to some teachers ahead of the annual celebration for the profession on Sunday, as well as to a forum on China-Central Asia cooperation.
The President extended condolences to Morocca’s King Mohammed VI for the deadly earthquake in the North African nation, as well as to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – who is at the G-20 summit – for floods that have ravaged the country. BLOOMBERG
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