Chinese Xi and Russian Putin will meet next week in Central Asia (Russian state media)
Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet on the sidelines of a summit in Uzbekistan next week, Russian envoy to Beijing Andrey Denisov told reporters on Wednesday, according to Russian news agency Tass.
The scheduled meeting at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit would be the first face-to-face between the two leaders, who have established a close relationship, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
It would also be Xi’s first overseas trip since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, and would come just weeks before a big political meeting in Beijing, where he is expected to break with tradition and take on a third term in office. cementing his role. as China’s most powerful leader for decades.
“This summit promises to be interesting, as it will be the first full-fledged summit since the pandemic,” Denisov said, according to Tass.
“I don’t mean that online summits are not full-fledged, but still, direct communication between leaders is a different quality of discussion… We are planning a serious and full-fledged meeting of our leaders with an order of the detailed day, that we are now working, in fact, with our Chinese partners,” the diplomat said.
China’s No. 3 Li Zhanshu, a member of the Communist Party of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, on Wednesday became the highest-ranking official to leave China since 2020, when he arrived in Vladivostok to attend the Eastern Economic Forum. Li was due to meet Putin on Wednesday, according to Tass.
Next week’s planned meeting between Xi and Putin – and the choice of where to take Xi’s first trip abroad – signals the importance of Russian relations for China, even in the face of the international backlash against Moscow after its invasion. unprovoked Ukraine earlier this year. .
Moscow and Beijing have become closer partners in recent years as both face tensions with the West, with Xi and Putin saying the two countries had a ‘limitless’ partnership weeks before the invasion. Ukraine by Russia. Beijing has since refused to condemn the aggression, repeatedly blaming NATO and the United States for the conflict.
Asked about Xi’s travel plans to Central Asia this month, China’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it could not provide any information.
The potential visit to Central Asia as Xi’s first official visit outside of China since the start of 2020 would also be a nod to his own legacy to boost China’s international profile during his decade in power. . Xi announced his flagship Belt and Road Initiative during a visit to Kazakhstan in 2013.
The SCO summit will be held from September 15 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The organization is made up of China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said Xi’s decision to take a rare trip abroad just weeks before the 20th Chinese Party Congress could be interpreted as a sign of the leader’s confidence and strength. .
“It shows that most of the decisions on personnel arrangements for his third term have probably been made…I don’t really think he’s challenged domestically,” Wu said.
Putin is one of the few world leaders Xi has met in person since the start of 2020. The Russian leader traveled to Beijing for his Winter Olympics in February this year and was considered the world leader the most prominent to join the event, which a number of Western nations boycotted, citing China’s human rights record.
It was during this meeting that the two men framed their “limitless” partnership and published a 5,000-word document expressing their joint opposition to “NATO’s further enlargement” and pledging to “remain very vigilant to the negative impact of the United States”. Indo-Pacific Strategy.
China continued to denounce Western sanctions against Moscow and refused to condemn Russia, while Chinese energy companies bought Russian energy supplies at record levels, a boon for Russian companies amid Western sanctions.
On Tuesday, Russian energy giant Gazprom said it had signed an agreement to start shifting payments for gas supplies to China in yuan and rubles instead of dollars, a development that Putin pointed to. reference in his speech Wednesday at the Eastern Economic Forum.
While Russia and China have been brought closer by respective frictions with the West, the personal relationship between the two leaders, in which Xi described Putin as his “best intimate friend”, is also meant to boost the dynamics of their relationship. strengthening at the national level.
The two leaders have spoken on the phone twice since Russia invaded Ukraine, according to official records. Their latest call, which fell on Xi’s 69th birthday, continued the two leaders’ trend of celebrating each other’s birthdays when they coincide with diplomatic engagements.
China was “willing to work with Russia to promote solidarity and cooperation among emerging market countries…and push for the development of international order and global governance towards a more just and reasonable direction.” , Xi said at the time.
The trip and summit expected this month would only serve to strengthen that relationship, making in itself an important statement about how China’s current and future leader views his country’s allegiances.
Wu in Singapore said he expects the meeting to further cement both the friendship between Xi and Putin – and between China and Russia. He said it was no surprise that Xi chose to meet Putin instead of US or European leaders on his first trip abroad since the pandemic.
“If he goes to the United States or Europe, he will probably face many challenges. When he goes to see Putin, he will get all kinds of praise from his friend, who is happy to be a strong man,” Wu said.