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09/01/2023 India (International Christian Concern) — Chinese government officials hinted on Thursday that Chinese President Xi Jinping may forgo his usual attendance at the annual gathering of G20 leaders to be held in India next week.

If so, it will be a first for Xi who has attended the meeting every year since coming to power in 2013, part of his overarching effort to project power and influence across the developing world. The move comes amid tense India-China relations, with the countries strained over trade and border security.

Just last week, Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke briefly on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit, a much-anticipated conversation that was interpreted as a sign of softening relations between the competitors.

India also hosted the Shanghai Cooperation Organization security summit in July, which included Russian President Valdimir Putin and Xi. The timing—just weeks after a state visit by Modi to Washington in June—is illustrative of the multipolar world order envisioned by Modi’s India. The prime minster chooses partners based on limited self-interest rather than the traditional geopolitical fault lines dividing western states from countries like Russia and China.

The U.S. sees India as a critical counterweight to Chinese influence in Asia and has courted the country for many years despite India’s backsliding democracy and its worsening human rights record, including the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities. This year’s G20, SCOO, and BRICS summits are prime fora for Chinese influence across the region and a cause of concern for U.S. officials trying to counter Chinese authoritarianism.

Some experts believe that Washington’s hopeful dependence on India as an ally in its conflict against China is misplaced, pointing to India’s support for Russia during the ongoing war against Ukraine. In the year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Modi has overseen an elevenfold increase in imports of Russian oil, defying U.S. demands and extending a vital economic lifeline to the Russian war effort. The move has placed a strain on U.S.-India relations and will doubtless be raised during Modi’s visit.

A U.S. Department of State report on India from earlier this year found that “attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred in various states [across India] throughout the year.” Further, the report discussed the issue of state-level laws which criminalize minority religious activity and highlighted “numerous reports during the year of violence by law enforcement authorities against members of religious minorities in multiple states.”

Since Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power in 2014, incidents of Christian persecution have more than doubled. Inspired by the notion of establishing India as a Hindu nation, Modi and the BJP have passed laws and enforced policies targeting Christians and limiting their religious freedom.

China also has a long history of repressing religious expression, both inside and outside its borders. Over the last several decades, it is known to have forced abortions on its citizens, sterilized women without their consent, and murdered religious minorities to sell their organs on the black market. Christian house churches are an attempt to escape government scrutiny, but even they are often raided and their members arrested on charges of working against the interests of the state.

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