The expected 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 the first overseas trip for Xi since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, as China’s uncompromising zero-Covid stance has significantly limited diplomatic travel for its top officials.
On Wednesday, China’s number three leader Li Zhanshu, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, became the highest ranking official to leave China when he arrived in Vladivostok to attend the Eastern Economic Forum. Li was expected to meet with Putin on Wednesday, according to Tass.
The expected meeting next week between Xi and Putin — and the choice of destination for Xi’s first overseas trip — signals the importance of the Russian relationship for China, even in the face of international blow back against Moscow after its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
Moscow and Beijing have emerged as closer partners in recent years as both face tensions with the West, with Xi and Putin declaring the two countries had a “no limit” partnership weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Beijing has since refused to condemn the aggression, instead repeatedly laying blame for the conflict on NATO and the United States.
The potential visit to Central Asia as Xi’s first official visit outside China since early 2020 would also be a nod to his own legacy in boosting China’s international profile during his decade in power. Xi announced his flagship Belt and Road Initiative during a 2013 visit to Kazakhstan.
The international trip would come just weeks before a major political meeting in Beijing, where Xi is expected to break with tradition and assume a third term in power, cementing his role as China’s most powerful leader in decades.
The SCO summit will be held from September 15 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The organization is compromised of China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.