President Xi Jinping’s decision to skip an important speech at the Brics business council on Wednesday last week is worth dwelling on. The speech, delivered in his name by commerce minister Wang Wentao, contained the key points he wanted the world to hear from the summit.

It’s important context that Xi’s trip to Johannesburg was just the second he’s taken out of China this year, the other being to Moscow in a show of solidarity with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin...

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