As the world eagerly anticipates the G20 Leaders Summit scheduled for September 9 and 10, one question looms large – will Chinese President Xi Jinping be in attendance? Amid this uncertainty, it’s worth noting that having every country represented at the highest level during such international gatherings has been a rarity since 2008.

The Fluctuating Attendance at G20 Summits

In a world where global leaders find themselves pulled in various directions, attendance at international summits, including the G20, tends to fluctuate from year to year. The upcoming G20 Summit is no exception, with both Russia and China’s heads of government (HOG) or heads of state (HOS) not expected to be in attendance. This is not a new phenomenon, as, apart from the inaugural summits in 2008 and 2009, subsequent G20 meetings have not seen every country represented at the highest level.

For instance, in 2021, six countries were represented below the HOS and HOG level at the G20 summit. This occurred before the Ukraine war and shortly after the Covid pandemic. In 2022, even after the Ukraine war had erupted, three countries were still represented below the top-level. Before these recent occurrences, there were nearly six instances where one or two countries were not represented by their HOG or HOS. Saudi Arabia, for example, has been represented nine times below HOS or HOG level and once even by a minister of state without a portfolio in 2017. Mexico’s president has not attended the G20 summit since 2018, while Russia, Australia, Brazil, and Argentina have had low-level representation on two occasions each.

On the flip side, countries like Canada, Germany, India, Italy, South Korea, Turkey, the UK, the US, and the European Union have consistently sent their top leadership to G20 summits and have never been represented below HOS or HOG level.

Factors Behind Varied Representation

So, why do some countries consistently send their top leaders to G20 summits while others occasionally opt for lower-level representation? Several factors come into play:

  1. Domestic Priorities: The domestic agenda of a country’s leadership often influences their decision to attend at the highest level. Pressing issues at home may take precedence over international summits.
  2. International Crises: The occurrence of significant international crises can impact a country’s ability to send its top leadership to these summits. Such crises may demand the immediate attention of leaders.
  3. Leader Availability: The availability of a country’s top leaders can also be a determining factor. Scheduling conflicts or other commitments may result in lower-level representation.

An illustrative example of these dynamics is the 2021 G20 summit in Italy. Despite the absence of major geopolitical or health reasons, six countries attended below the HOS or HOG level, highlighting the intricate factors that can influence summit participation.

It’s important to note that these fluctuations in attendance should not be viewed as a reflection of the host country. The G20 summit serves as a platform for collaboration and dialogue on pressing global issues, and its effectiveness relies on the engagement of its members, regardless of their level of representation.

In a world where leaders juggle myriad responsibilities, it’s only natural that not every summit achieves full attendance at the highest level.

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