Xi Lands in Kazakhstan for First Foreign Trip in Over Two Years

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(Bloomberg) — President Xi Jinping has arrived in Kazakhstan for a state visit, Chinese state media reported, in his first overseas trip in nearly 1,000 days.

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The Chinese leader landed in the capital city of Nur-Sultan on Wednesday afternoon, according to the official Xinhua News Agency, and is slated to meet with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. 

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The trip marks Xi’s return to the world stage 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. 

Later this week, Xi will travel to neighboring Uzbekistan, where he’s expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. That sit-down would be the first in-person chat between the two leaders since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February.

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Xi’s sweep through Central Asia comes a month before a twice-in-a-decade party congress where he’s expected to clinch a precedent-busting third term. His decision to leave China on the eve of the meeting that begins Oct. 16 is another sign Xi is confident in his position.

Kazakhstan is a strategic choice for Xi’s return to the world stage. The Central Asian country is home to 40% of the world’s uranium, an increasingly important resource as developed nations turn to atomic energy as a longer-term source of power. It also borders Xinjiang, where Beijing has been accused of aggressive policies to suppress its ethnic minority populations, including millions of mostly Muslim Uyghurs.

In July, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi also traveled to Kazakhstan, the country where Xi launched what would become his flagship Belt and Road initiative in 2013. The Chinese leader said in January that he firmly opposed forces that undermine Kazakhstan’s stability, after mass protests broke out there over spikes in fuel prices.

The regional trip is also a chance for Xi to connect with a grouping of countries seen as open to countering Western alliances, at a time when China’s relationship with the US has become increasingly frayed. Tensions have been high following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taipei last month, with China launching unprecedented military exercises around the democratically ruled island that Beijing considers part of its territory.

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