China’s Xi is considering a visit to Central Asia, a possible meeting with Putin next month

China’s Xi is considering a visit to Central Asia, a possible meeting with Putin next month

According to people familiar with the planning, preparations are underway for Chinese leader Xi Jinping to travel to Central Asia to meet with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and other leaders at a regional summit in mid-September.

The tentative addition of a trip to Mr Xi’s schedule was prompted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan earlier this month, which Beijing saw as an escalation of Western pressure on China, some of the people said.

People involved in preparations for the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to be held in the Uzbek city of Samarkand on September 15-16 this year said Mr Xi’s office signaled this week that he could attend in person, although she warned his plans remain in flux. The office has also started preparing bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit with leaders of Pakistan, India and Turkey, who also plan to attend, it said.

Planning for Mr Xi’s attendance only began after angry warnings and threats of retaliation failed to deter Ms Pelosi from visiting Taiwan, a democratically self-governing island that Beijing claims, according to some people, is part of China. China’s leaders are concerned that heightened tensions with Washington over Taiwan could lead to an accidental military clash, they said.

Chinas Xi is considering a visit to Central Asia a

The annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will take place in the Uzbek city of Samarkand in mid-September.

Photo: Valery Sharifulin/Zuma Press

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, the Kremlin, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Russia’s state news agency TASS said in June that Putin plans to attend the summit, but made no mention of meeting Mr Xi.

A trip to Samarkand would underscore Mr Xi’s goal of forging closer security ties with countries that are not US allies as a bulwark against Western efforts to contain China, Chinese officials said.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a regional security bloc formed in 2001 by China, Russia and Central Asian countries, dubbed by some observers the “NATO of the East,” in reference to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The group expanded to include India and Pakistan in 2017. Iran and Afghanistan are among the observer states, and Turkey is named as a dialogue partner.

Diplomats from some SCO countries said Mr Xi is expected to attend, although a final decision on whether he will attend in person or virtually is still pending.

Mr. Xi last traveled abroad in January 2020, when he visited Myanmar, just before Beijing publicly acknowledged the seriousness of the Covid-19 outbreak, which then quickly spread across central China.

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“Our world has entered a new phase of volatility and transformation with the combined impact of major changes,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a regular press conference ahead of a meeting of SCO foreign ministers late last month. “China stands ready to work with all parties to strengthen solidarity and mutual trust.”

The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Mr Xi plans to visit Southeast Asia and meet in person with President Biden in November, which would be the first such meeting since Mr Biden took office. In an interview with Bloomberg News published on Friday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said Mr Xi plans to attend the G20 summit on the resort island of Bali in November, which Mr Biden is also scheduled to attend.

Meeting Mr. Putin before meeting Mr. Biden would send a signal of Mr. Xi’s commitment to strong Sino-Russian ties, which were described as “without borders” by China’s foreign ministry following a previous meeting between Mr. Putin and Xi in February Beijing just a few weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Chinese state media videos and a map of live fire drills across Taiwan have revealed Beijing’s strategy of imposing an air and sea blockade on the island. In the event of a military conflict, China could threaten both Taiwan and world trade. Figure: video surveillance

Mr Putin this week called Ms Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan a “well planned provocation” by the US aimed at sowing chaos. Beijing said the Russian leader’s remark showed “high-level strategic coordination between China and Russia.” The two militaries will also conduct side-by-side exercises in Russia’s Far East later this month, another sign of Chinese support for Moscow amid Western anger at Mr Putin over the invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Xi’s trip could also help Beijing ease tensions with India. The giant Asian neighbors are locked in a long-running dispute over their Himalayan border that erupted in a deadly military clash in 2020. India, along with the US, Australia and Japan, is also part of a group of democratic countries called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as the Quad, designed to counter China’s growing influence in Asia.

More recently, the two governments clashed over the call by a Chinese survey ship in Sri Lanka this month – a visit New Delhi fears is a potential precursor to Beijing using the island nation as a base for Indian military activities ocean uses.

Since the pandemic began, most of Mr Xi’s meetings with global leaders have been conducted virtually. He spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June as part of a virtual summit of the so-called Brics nations, which also included Mr Putin, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. The Chinese leader’s last face-to-face meeting with Mr Modi was in 2019.

The Indian Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

write to Keith Zhai at [email protected]

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