Xi Jinping’s First Foreign Trip Since Pandemic Confirmed

China confirmed that Xi Jinping plans to travel to Central Asia this week, in what would be the president’s first trip aboard since the pandemic hit more than two years ago.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry Monday confirmed earlier reports that Xi would visit Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Xi will be able to meet Vladimir Putin personally in Uzbekistan at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. This is the first meeting since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in Feb.

The trip marks Xi’s return to the world stage spotlight after being the only Group of 20 leader to avoid traveling outside his country since the world’s first Covid lockdown began in January 2020. Besides a visit the Chinese territory of Hong Kong in July, Xi will have gone without leaving his country’s strict Covid Zero regime for some 970 days.

This Central Asian tour is less than a month before the two-in-a decade party congress where the Chinese leader will be seeking a record-breaking third term. Xi launched the global trade-and-infrastructure plan that would become the Belt and Road Initiative in Kazakhstan nine years ago and may be seeking to use the trip to burnish his foreign policy credentials.

The SCO summit is also an opportunity to connect with a grouping of countries seen as the region’s answer to Western-led alliances, at a time when China’s relations with the US have become increasingly frayed. Tensions have been high following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei last month, with China launching unprecedented military exercises around the democratically ruled island that Beijing considers part of its territory.

Kazakhstan holds some 40% of the world’s known uranium reserves, an increasingly important resource as developed countries turn to atomic energy as a longer-term source of power. China borders it, and Beijing is accused of aggressively suppressing its ethnic minorities, which includes millions of Uyghurs, a majority Muslim.

In January, Xi said he firmly opposed forces that undermined Kazakhstan’s stability, after mass protests over spikes in fuel prices.

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