Chinese President Xi Jinping began his first foreign trip since the outbreak of the pandemic on Wednesday with a stop in Kazakhstan before a summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and other leaders of the Central Asian Security Group. Xi’s trip underscores the importance Beijing attaches to relations with Russia and Central Asia as the ruling Communist Party pursues its strategic ambitions amid tensions with Washington, Japan and India. Dressed in a blue suit and face mask, Xi Jinping met President Kassy-Jomart Tokayev and an honor guard on the tarmac, all wearing masks.
Tokayev’s government said the two leaders would discuss energy markets and global economic turmoil. A sparsely populated country of 19.4 million with vast grasslands, Kazakhstan is a major producer of oil and gas. China is a leading customer. On Thursday, Xi is scheduled to fly to Samarkand in neighboring Uzbekistan for a summit of the eight-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization led by China and Russia.
Beijing and Moscow see the SCO as a counterweight to US alliances in East Asia. Other SCO governments include India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Tajikistan. Observers include Iran and Afghanistan. The Chinese leader is promoting the “Global Security Initiative” announced in April after the formation of the Quad by Washington, Japan, Australia and India in response to Beijing’s more assertive foreign policy. Xi has provided few details, but US officials complain that it reflects Russian arguments in support of Moscow’s attack on Ukraine. Xi and Putin plan to hold a one-on-one meeting to discuss Ukraine, the Russian president’s foreign policy adviser, Yuriy Ushakov, said.