In an unexpected turn of events, President Xi Jinping of China was absent from a crucial business forum in South Africa, where he was slated to deliver a pivotal speech defending China’s economy and its backing for emerging markets. The unanticipated absence comes as mounting anxieties suggest that China’s current economic struggles could trigger global instability. The Chinese leader, according to a public schedule, was set to address the BRICS Business Forum following a meeting with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, but instead, the attendees were met by Commerce Minister Wang Wentao, who presented the speech without offering a reason for Xi’s absence.
The absence of President Xi from delivering a bullish economic message in person comes at a critical time when China is under intense global scrutiny over its economic challenges, including falling prices, a shaky property market, and skyrocketing local government debt. These economic woes have been labeled a "ticking time bomb" for the world by President Joe Biden and a "risk factor" for the US by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. As China grapples with these challenges, the South Africa summit brings Xi into contact with global leaders he hasn’t seen in months, potentially highlighting the shift in his priorities from business and economy to political and security issues.
Xi Jinping Skips BRICS Business Forum, Sparks Concerns Over China’s Economic Woes
President Xi Jinping of China missed the recent BRICS Business Forum in South Africa, where he was anticipated to present a defense of China’s economy amidst growing fears about the country’s economic struggles and their potential global impact.
Xi’s Unexpected Absence
Xi Jinping was scheduled to address the BRICS Business Forum after meeting with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. Unexpectedly, Commerce Minister Wang Wentao took Xi’s place on stage, reading the speech without providing any explanation for Xi’s absence. The speech emphasized the strength and resilience of the Chinese economy, asserting that "The giant ship of the Chinese economy will continue to cleave waves and sail ahead."
China Under Global Scrutiny
China’s economic challenges, including falling prices, a faltering property market, and mounting local government debt, have drawn intense global attention. U.S. President Joe Biden has described these issues as a "ticking time bomb" for the world, while Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has labeled them a "risk factor" for the U.S. Xi’s decision to avoid the forum could be seen as an attempt to sidestep these concerns.
Lack of Transparency and Its Impact
The Chinese government’s lack of transparency has raised eyebrows and caused uncertainty among investors. The government rarely clarifies the movements or health status of its leaders. When Qin Gang was removed from his post as foreign minister this year, no explanation was provided. This trend of opacity has made previously accessible data more challenging to find, causing unease among investors.
Xi’s International Influence and BRICS Expansion
Despite his absence from the forum, Xi took the opportunity to strengthen ties with countries from the Global South and enhance China’s influence on international affairs. Xi and Ramaphosa pledged to cooperate in areas such as electricity, new energy, and technological innovation. Xi also expressed support for South Africa playing a more significant role in the G20.
There have been discussions about expanding the five-nation BRICS group, with over 20 countries including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Egypt reportedly seeking membership. However, concerns about China’s dominance and potential alienation of the West have caused hesitation among some members.
Xi Jinping’s unexpected absence from the BRICS Business Forum has sparked concerns and questions about China’s economic health and transparency. His decision to prioritize political and security issues over economic ones signals a shift in focus that may have significant implications for China’s economic trajectory and its relationships with other nations. As China continues to face economic challenges, its actions and decisions will be watched closely by investors and global leaders alike.