China’s President Xi Jinping will on Wednesday travel out of China for the first time in 32 months, and since the COVID-19 pandemic began, as he makes trips to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday finally confirmed Mr. Xi’s travel plans, which had first emerged last week. Kazakhstan on September 7 announced his visit while Russia the same day indicated a bilateral between their leaders was on the cards on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit, to be held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on September 15 and 16.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also be attending the SCO Summit, and will see Mr. Xi for the first time in person since a November 2019 meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit in Brasilia. Both leaders, who had met 18 times between 2014 and 2019, haven’t spoken directly since then, with ties strained amid the on-going Line of Actual Control (LAC) stand-off, which began with China’s transgressions in April 2020.
Indian and Chinese officials have so far neither confirmed nor ruled out the possibility of a meeting in Samarkand. Days ahead of the summit, India and China last week announced disengagement of their troops from Patrolling Point 15 in Gogra-Hot Springs, one of the three pending friction points awaiting disengagement. India has conveyed to China it will not accept normalcy in ties as long as the situation along the LAC remains disturbed.
Wednesday’s trip to Kazakhstan will be the Chinese leader’s first visit abroad since a trip to Myanmar in mid-January 2020, days before the lockdown of Wuhan, where COVID-19 began. China has since followed a strict zero-COVID policy and kept in place international travel restrictions. Until this month, none of the top leadership of the Communist Party had left China since the start of the pandemic.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s statement on Monday said Mr. Xi will attend the SCO Summit and pay a state visit to Kazakhstan, at the invitation of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan and President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan.
Kazakhstan is where Mr. Xi first launched his signature Belt and Road Initiative in 2013. The trip will be his last overseas visit before the Communist Party’s 20th Party Congress, which will begin in Beijing on October 16, marking a decade in office and the start of his likely third term.
Mr. Xi is also expected to hold talks with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Samarkand, a first meeting since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At their last meeting in Beijing in February, which took place shortly before the Russian attack, both leaders affirmed a “no limits” relationship.