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Why Xi Started His First Journey For the reason that Pandemic in Kazakhstan


After virtually three years of attending worldwide conferences just about, Chinese language President Xi Jinping made his in-person return to the world stage on Wednesday when he traveled to Kazakhstan.

Except for a trip to the semi-autonomous Chinese language territory of Hong Kong in July, Xi hasn’t left mainland China since January 2020, when Beijing’s zero-COVID policy noticed the nation slam its borders shut. That makes Xi’s travels this week significantly important.

Throughout his journey, Xi will even go to Uzbekistan to attend a gathering of the Shanghai Cooperation Group (SCO), a regional safety and buying and selling bloc whose different members are India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It will likely be the SCO’s first in-person gathering since 2019 and Xi is predicted to take the chance for a face-to-face assembly with Vladimir Putin—his first for the reason that Russian chief launched a war against Ukraine in February.

Learn Extra: Putin’s Meeting With Xi Comes at a Crucial Time for Russia

However Xi’s first cease is Kazakhstan, the place he’ll maintain talks with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Right here’s why Kazakhstan issues an awesome deal to China, and why Xi has determined to make Central Asia the main target of his first international sojourn in virtually 1,000 days.


Chinese language President Xi Jinping holds a welcoming ceremony for visiting Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev earlier than their talks on the Nice Corridor of the Folks in Beijing, Sept. 11, 2019.

Huang Jingwen/Xinhua through Getty

Kazakhstan’s strategic significance

Kazakhstan is China’s neighbor to the northwest. The 2 international locations share greater than 1,000 miles of border and this can be Xi’s fourth go to. “China and Kazakhstan are good neighbors, good associates and good companions,” Xi stated in a letter published Tuesday within the Kazakhstanskaya Pravda newspaper.

However behind the pleasant overtures are onerous geopolitical calculations.

As of 2019, China had round $14 billion invested in Kazakhstan’s oil and fuel sectors. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine throwing world vitality markets into chaos, Kazakhstan is extra essential than ever.

The Central Asian nation of just about 19 million individuals “is a big provider of vitality to China, thereby essential for Beijing’s vitality safety technique,” says Baohui Zhang, a professor of political science at Hong Kong’s Lingnan College.

Kazakhstan additionally shares a border with Russia and has a big Russian minority, making up about 18% of the inhabitants. Some consultants imagine that Xi might be sending a sign to Moscow that Beijing regards Central Asia as its sphere of affect.

Learn Extra: Russia’s War in Ukraine Spells Disaster for Central Asia

George Mason College politics professor Mark N. Katz told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Submit newspaper that “Kazakhstan is understandably nervous that Russia would possibly sooner or later flip its consideration to ‘liberating’ the sizeable Russian inhabitants nonetheless residing in northern Kazakhstan.”

Mason defined: “So Xi’s go to to Kazakhstan will be seen as an indication that Beijing sees Kazakhstan as a buddy and Russia mustn’t do something to harm Beijing’s buddy.”

In the meantime, China’s bold Belt and Highway Initiative (BRI)—a improvement technique that hyperlinks almost 150 international locations in a sprawling program of infrastructure constructing—was launched by Xi in 2013 throughout a go to to Kazakhstan’s capital Astana. Apart from its financial advantages, the BRI is seen by Beijing as a means of accelerating its world clout and specifically of training “periphery diplomacy” with the numerous international locations alongside its borders.

By China’s own admission, the BRI has run right into a slew of challenges, from unfavorable shifts within the geopolitical local weather to the COVID-19 pandemic. Xi’s journey to Kazakhstan will be seen as a means of revitalizing the initiative, in accordance with analysts.

“That is all in regards to the ‘renewal of vows’” on the Belt and Highway Initiative, says Yun Solar, a senior fellow on the Washington-based Stimson Centre. “The nation is the place it began. That’s why he’s going.”

A Kazakh family watch a documentary on China-Kazakhstan economic cooperation at their home in Astana, then called Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, on Oct. 9, 2020. (Kalizhan Ospanov/Xinhua via Getty)

A Kazakh household watch a documentary on China-Kazakhstan financial cooperation at their residence in Astana, then referred to as Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, on Oct. 9, 2020.

Kalizhan Ospanov/Xinhua through Getty

China’s future course

Zhiqun Zhu, a professor of political science and worldwide relations at Bucknell College, who’s at the moment a U.S. Fulbright Scholar at Australia’s Griffith College, says that in stepping past China’s borders Xi might also be sending a message that his nation will regularly reopen. Worldwide journey might resume as COVID-19 abates.

There are periodic indicators that discontent over China’s zero-COVID insurance policies—which have brought about extreme economic problems—is rising. However Xi could also be attempting to display that he’s in agency management in China, regardless of such mounting challenges. He may be suggesting that he’s assured in his bid for a precedent-breaking third time period as China’s president, at a key Communist Get together assembly subsequent month.

“He can confidently journey overseas now,” says Zhu.

Learn Extra: What to Know About the Kazakhstan Protests of January 2022

The SCO convention, following Xi’s Kazakhstan journey, can be of essential significance to Xi’s geopolitical clout. “Within the context of the Ukraine battle,” says Zhang at Lingnan College, “the SCO summit assembly will enable the leaders of main non-Western powers to speak about current developments in world politics and coordinate their insurance policies.”

Amid a tense geopolitical ambiance, consultants say that Beijing could also be attempting consolidate help to counter the West.

“The message to Western powers is that they don’t characterize the entire worldwide group, and China has many associates in creating international locations and the non-Western world,” says Zhu.

Outstanding amongst them is Kazakhstan. “We’re associates to belief and companions to depend on for one another,” wrote Xi in his letter in Kazakhstanskaya Pravda, “and our peoples at all times stand shoulder to shoulder with one another.”

Extra Should-Learn Tales From TIME


Write to Amy Gunia at amy.gunia@time.com.

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