China's Xi to visit Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan this week
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China's President Xi Jinping will make state visits to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan this week, Beijing said Monday -- his first trip abroad since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Xi will attend a leaders' summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in the Uzbek city of Samarkand and "pay state visits to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan" at the invitation of Presidents Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Shavkat Mirziyoyev from Wednesday to Friday, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The SCO is made up of China, Russia, India, Pakistan, as well as four central Asian countries -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
It will be holding its next summit on September 15 and 16 in the Uzbek city of Samarkand, a stop on the ancient Silk Road.
Russia had already announced last week that Xi will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the summit, as Moscow seeks to bolster ties with Beijing after being slapped with unprecedented Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.
Beijing has not condemned Moscow's interventions in Ukraine and provided diplomatic cover by blasting Western sanctions and arms sales to Kyiv.
Putin and Xi last met in early February in Beijing ahead of the Winter Olympic Games, days before the Russian president sent troops into Ukraine.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also take part in the summit in Samarkand, the Indian government said on Sunday, without saying whether Modi would hold bilateral talks with Putin or Xi.
India's relations with China have been frosty since fighting in 2020 on their disputed Himalayan border left at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers dead. Modi and Xi have not held bilateral talks since 2019.
The trip will be Xi's first outside China's borders since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.
China's president last went overseas in January 2020 for a state visit to Myanmar. A few days after his return, the entire city of Wuhan was locked down over a spiralling Covid outbreak.
Since then, Xi has largely conducted his diplomacy virtually, but received several foreign leaders during the Beijing Winter Olympics in February -- his first in-person meetings with foreign leaders since the pandemic.
Xi is readying for a pivotal twice-a-decade Congress of the ruling Communist Party in October, where he is widely expected to secure an unprecedented third term as president.
The event, which opens on October 16 in Beijing, will also unveil a new top leadership lineup and likely consolidate Xi's hold on the party.
Previous Chinese leaders generally refrained from making overseas trips in the weeks before the Party Congress, when behind-the-scenes power struggles frequently intensified.