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Xi Jinping travels outside of China to see Putin and other leaders. Here’s why it matters

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Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose during their trilateral meeting with Mongolia on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Thursday.

Alexandr Demyanchuk/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images


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Alexandr Demyanchuk/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

gettyimages 1243252862 5f692d261497349bf00c3c71528b4ae9cf50b17a s1200

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose during their trilateral meeting with Mongolia on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Thursday.

Alexandr Demyanchuk/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is on his first international trip outside of China for the first time in more than a thousand days.

Xi has chosen Central Asian countries as his first stops, after nearly three years of strict pandemic isolation inside mainland China, and the Chinese leader also participated in a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a security forum meeting in Uzbekistan on Thursday. .

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Here are some of the reasons why Xi is going abroad and the conclusions so far:

It is in China’s regional and national security interests.

Xi and Putin are in Uzbekistan for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an eight-nation security bloc dominated by China but including Russia, India, Pakistan and four former Soviet Central Asian republics. Iran and Afghanistan are among the organization’s observers. The bloc is primarily focused on cooperating on regional security, anti-extremism and anti-separatism issues, issues that China insists are the reason for its crackdown on historically Muslim ethnic groups in its western Xinjiang region.

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The US State Department estimates that more than 1 million ethnic Uyghurs, who share close cultural and linguistic ties with people living in Central Asian republics, including Uzbekistan, have been detained or imprisoned without due cause. lawful in China. Those detained included thousands of ethnic Kazakhs living in Xinjiang, further complicating China’s relations with the region. Securing continued cooperation from Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan, which shares a long border with Xinjiang, is key to China’s vision of securing its borders and creating a buffer between itself and unstable states like Afghanistan.

It is to roll back “American hegemony” and Western dominance of global affairs.

While Xi Jinping was isolated within a strict COVID-19 bubble inside China, the US relationship with China collapsed and US officials vigorously sought closer ties with Asia Pacific countries and the democratic island of Taiwan. , over which China claims control, to counter China’s power. raise.

After Xi met with Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev last Wednesday, the two countries issued a joint statement in support of China’s claim to join the island peacefully. “Recognizing that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory, Kazakhstan opposes ‘Taiwan independence’ in all its forms,” ​​according to the statement.

Xi secured similar promises from other Central Asian leaders and from Russia, as a diplomatic counterweight available to the United States on Taiwan.

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“As Xi said, we are at a crucial moment in the world order. The United States is used to being in the position of world leader, but China will not be pushed out as the world’s second-biggest influencer,” said Wang Dehua. former director of the Institute for Central and South Asian Studies, Shanghai Municipal Center for International Studies.

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China is concerned about Russia’s war in Ukraine, but does not criticize it

China invested significant political capital in a “no-holds-barred” partnership with Russia just weeks before Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February, and has since refused to criticize Russia’s war in Ukraine. Now, with the war in its seventh month, Russia’s prospects look increasingly dim after a series of impressive victories by the Ukrainian military last week that recaptured several towns and villages in eastern Ukraine.

Xi is now likely to seek assurances from Putin that Russia’s war will not further destabilize regional security and economic development. Putin directly addressed China’s apparent concerns in his remarks at the start of the bilateral meeting.

“We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends regarding the Ukraine crisis. We understand their questions and concerns about it,” Putin said. “During today’s meeting, we will of course explain in detail our position on this issue, although we have discussed this before.”

Xi’s trip is also to reassure China’s neighbors in Central Asia after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The post-Soviet republics of Central Asia were shaken after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Kazakhstan, normally a close partner of Russia, has even adhered to Western sanctions against Russia and refused to recognize Moscow-backed self-proclaimed “republics” in eastern Ukraine.

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Now Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan are hoping China will take a more prominent role in guiding regional affairs as Russia appears more unstable and distracted by its war in Ukraine.

“Any time Russia is in conflict with the West and becoming more isolated and toxic, Uzbekistan understands that it needs to replace Russia wherever possible, and the first country that can do that is China,” says Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International. Peace. .

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China has already invested heavily in energy and infrastructure in Central Asia, which Xi Jinping made the centerpiece of a global infrastructure initiative called the Belt and Road, a reference to the ancient Silk Road caravan routes that connect China with Central Asia, Middle East and Europe.

Aowen Cao contributed research from Beijing.

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