Shunning global summits, Xi visits flood-stricken area in northeast China

BEIJING (Reuters) – Eschewing face-time with foreign leaders at global summits this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday visited the homes of villagers in a rural part of northeast China battered by floods.

In the village of Longwangmiao in Heilongjiang province, Xi called on local residents to triumph over their difficulties and work towards returning life to a more normal footing, according to state media reports. He also enquired about their losses and supply of daily necessities.

In late July through early August, record rainfall laid waste to vast swathes of northern China, flooding cities and farmlands unused to powerful storms more common in the south, but Xi did not visit any of the disaster-hit areas until this week.

Inspecting rice crops and damaged homes in Longwangmiao battered by remnants of the super typhoon Doksuri, Xi skipped an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Indonesia this week. He will also miss the chance on Saturday and Sunday to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden at a G20 conclave in India.

But Xi did attend a meeting in late August with leaders of the BRICS group of major emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – in South Africa.

China has not explained why Xi, who had attended every G20 summit since coming to office over a decade ago, was not leading Beijing’s delegation to New Delhi. It has said only that Premier Li Qiang will represent China.

By comparison, Xi left China for five overseas visits in 2022 – when the country’s borders were effectively closed due to pandemic controls – and a dozen in pre-COVID 2019.

Reuters, citing foreign diplomats in China, previously reported that Xi’s absence at the upcoming G20 could be a sign of Beijing’s increasing coolness to the West and its allies.

Instead, some Western leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron and senior officials including U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken this year had to come to China to see Xi.

Speaking to Longwangmiao residents, Xi said he was concerned about disaster-stricken places, suggesting his domestic concerns outrank international ones.

“In China, when people encounter difficulties, we still need to give full play to the superiority of our socialism, that is, when one party is in trouble, all parties will support it, and the country will fully support it,” Xi said.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Sharon Singleton)