NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – When the presidents and prime ministers of the Group of 20 nations meet in Rome this weekend, China’s leader, Mr Xi Jinping, will not be among them.
Nor is he expected at the climate talks next week in Glasgow, Scotland, where China’s commitment to curbing carbon emissions is seen as crucial to helping blunt the dire consequences of climate change. He has yet to meet President Joe Biden in person and seems unlikely to anytime soon.
Mr Xi has not left China in 21 months – and counting.
The ostensible reason for Mr Xi’s lack of foreign travel is Covid-19, though officials have not said so explicitly. It is also a calculation that has reinforced a deeper shift in China’s foreign and domestic policy.
China, under Mr Xi, no longer feels compelled to cooperate – or at least be seen as cooperating – with the United States and its allies on anything other than its own terms.
Still, Mr Xi’s recent absence from the global stage has complicated China’s ambition to position itself as an alternative to American leadership.
And it has coincided with – some say contributed to – a sharp deterioration in the country’s relations with much of the rest of the world.
Instead, China has turned inward, with officials preoccupied with protecting Mr Xi’s health and internal political machinations, including a Communist Party congress next year where he is expected to claim another five years as the country’s leader.
As a result, face-to-face diplomacy is a lower priority than it was in Mr Xi’s first years in office.
Mr Xi’s retreat has deprived him of the chance to personally counter a steady decline in the country’s reputation, even as it faces rising tensions on trade, Taiwan and other issues.
His absence has also dampened hopes that the gatherings in Rome and Glasgow can make meaningful progress on two of the most pressing issues facing the world today: The post-pandemic recovery and the fight against global warming.
Mr Biden, who is attending both, had sought to meet Mr Xi on the sidelines, in keeping with his strategy to work with China on issues like climate change even as the two countries clash on others.
Instead, the two leaders have agreed to hold a “virtual summit” before the end of the year, though no date has been announced yet.