China’s Xi visits Kazakhstan ahead of summit with Putin

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday started his first trip abroad since the outbreak of the pandemic with a stop in Kazakhstan ahead of a summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and other leaders of a Central Asian security group.

Xi’s trip underlines the importance Beijing places on ties with Russia and Central Asia as the ruling Communist Party promotes its strategic ambitions amid tension with Washington, Japan and India.

Xi, wearing a blue suit and a face mask, was met on airport tarmac President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and an honor guard, all of whom wore masks.

Tokayev’s government said the two leaders would discuss energy markets and global economic turmoil. Kazakhstan, a sparsely populated country of 19.4 million people and sprawling grasslands, is a major oil and gas producer. China is a leading customer.

On Thursday, Xi is due to fly to Samarkand in neighboring Uzbekistan for a summit of the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization, led by China and Russia.

Beijing and Moscow see the SCO as a counterweight to U.S. alliances in East Asia.

Other SCO governments include India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Tajikistan. Observers include Iran and Afghanistan.

The Chinese leader is promoting a “Global Security Initiative” announced in April following the formation of the Quad by Washington, Japan, Australia and India in response to Beijing’s more assertive foreign policy. Xi has given few details, but U.S. officials complain it echoes Russian arguments in support of Moscow’s attack on Ukraine.

Xi and Putin plan to hold a one-on-one meeting and discuss Ukraine, according to the Russian president’s foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov.

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