As per reports by CNN, Chinese President Xi Jinping unexpectedly chose to stay absent from a business forum of the BRICS economic group in South Africa on Tuesday, sending his commerce minister, Wang Wentao, to deliver a speech on his behalf. This decision came as a surprise to many, as Xi was slated to deliver a speech alongside leaders from India, Brazil, and South Africa at the forum, which was part of the annual BRICS summit of major emerging economies held in Johannesburg.
Wang Wentao read out Xi’s prepared statement, which contained thinly-veiled critiques of US hegemony and its effects on emerging markets and developing countries. The statement emphasised that every country has the right to development and its people the freedom to pursue happiness. It also questioned the path forward for global cooperation, urging leaders to choose between collaboration and division, peace and confrontation.
Notably, Xi was the only leader from the BRICS nations who did not attend the business forum. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin, who joined the summit virtually due to an international arrest warrant for his invasion of Ukraine, delivered remarks virtually..
Xi’s absence puzzled experts and observers of Chinese foreign policy, as it is highly unusual for a Chinese leader to miss a multilateral meeting in a country hosting such an event, especially one China has invested significantly in. Analysts speculated on the reasons for this unexpected move, with some suggesting there might be internal developments influencing Xi’s decision.
Despite his absence from the forum, Xi engaged in other diplomatic activities during his visit to South Africa. He had a morning meeting with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa as part of his state visit, followed by a dinner attended by leaders from Brazil and India, as well as Russia’s foreign minister.
The BRICS Summit, hosted by South Africa from August 22 to August 24, 2023, marks Xi’s second international trip of the year after visiting Moscow in March.