Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is to visit Kazakhstan next week for a state visit, Interfax reported, in what would be his first trip overseas in more than two-and-a-half years.
Xi accepted the Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s invitation to visit the Central Asian nation on Wednesday next week, the Russian news agency reported, citing Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Aibek Smadiyarov.
The two leaders would sign a variety of agreements during the visit, it added.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.
The trip would mark a return to the world stage for Xi, the only G20 leader who has not traveled abroad throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. While Xi made a brief visit to Hong Kong in July, he has not set foot outside Chinese territory since January 2020.
The timing would be unusual even in pre-pandemic times. Chinese leaders rarely travel abroad in the months of intense domestic politicking before the Chinese Communist Party’s twice-a-decade National Congress, which is set to start in Beijing on Oct. 16. Xi is widely expected to secure a precedent-breaking third term at the gathering.
Yet geopolitical tensions are running high in the wake of US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan last month. China responded by conducting live-fire military drills around Taiwan. Beijing has sought to gain diplomatic support for its position on Taiwan, pushing back on calls by the US and its allies to exercise restraint.
Xi might also attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization scheduled for Thursday and Friday next week in neighboring Uzbekistan. The group, which China sees as a counter to Western alliances, also includes Russia, India, Pakistan and other Central Asian nations.
Niva Yau (邱芷恩), a senior researcher at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, said for Xi Central Asia is the “perfect pivot” for whatever is to come regarding Taiwan and any other developments in East Asia.
Another, more practical reason for selecting Kazakhstan is that it is the most important country for China to continue its Xinjiang policy, Yau added.
“If there’s any country that can make a difference regarding what China does in Xinjiang with the Turkic population there, it would be Kazakhstan,” she said.
It is also a strategic mineral source: Kazakhstan has 40 percent of the world’s uranium, which could become increasingly important as developed countries look to atomic energy as a reliable source of zero-carbon power in the coming decades.
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