Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will meet in Uzbekistan on September 15 and 16, Russian envoy in Beijing Andrey Denisov said, Russian news agency TASS reported. The meetings will be held within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit.

Denisov said, “In less than ten days we will have a regular meeting of our SCO leaders in Samarkand, we are preparing for it. Overall, this summit promises to be interesting, because it will be the first full-fledged summit since the pandemic.”

The diplomat said that while online meetings are productive there is nothing like meeting face to face. The quality of the discussions is very different.

Vladimir Putin mentioned during his meeting with one of the CCP leaders, Li Zhanshu, that he will meet with Xi in Uzbekistan. “I hope that we will [meet] with President Xi Jinping in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, within the framework of events related to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.” He added, “I ask you to convey my greetings and wishes to my good friend, President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping.”

Li is one of the members of the Politburo Standing Committee and is the third most powerful man within the Chinese Communist Party. His departure from the country and his international visits are a first by a top Communist regime official after the start of the pandemic.

Xi will visit Kazakhstan on September 14, according to the Kazakh Foreign Ministry. It will be his first visit since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Xi will meet with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and sign bilateral agreements. So far, the CCP has not officially confirmed the visit and the country’s foreign ministry has not commented either.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Xi was planning a visit to Central Asia to meet with Putin and other leaders of the region at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. The SCO is made up of China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia have observer status, while Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey are associate countries. In addition, many other countries have recently expressed their desire to join the SCO.

The SCO was founded in June 2001 in Shanghai to address conflicts over regional security, the fight against separatism, illicit drug trafficking, among other issues. Today, the intergovernmental organization is also focused on regional development, respect for diversity, and cultural traditions.

Ahead of the upcoming 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party  to be held on October 16, where Xi is expected to be re-elected for a third term as general secretary, the Chinese leader has not left the country since border closures and limitation of international flights were ordered.

The upcoming meeting between Xi and Putin shows that collaboration between the two countries is very close, and that this rapprochement has deepened since Russia’s war against Ukraine. Both Moscow and Beijing have tense relations with several Western countries and in February the two countries made an agreement on “unlimited” cooperation. Since then, the CCP has not condemned Russia for the war in Ukraine, but has instead blamed the United States and NATO.

On a February call between the two leaders, published by Chinese state media CCTV, Xi said Putin should “abandon the Cold War mentality, attach importance to and respect the reasonable security concerns of all countries, and form a balanced, effective, and sustainable European security mechanism through negotiations.” He also noted that “the situation in eastern Ukraine has undergone rapid changes … [and] China supports Russia and Ukraine in resolving the issue through negotiation.”

One China expert, Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, said Xi’s decision to make an overseas visit just weeks before China’s 20th Congress could be interpreted as a sign of the leader’s confidence and strength.

Wu said, “It shows that most of the decisions on personnel arrangements for his third term have probably already been made…. I really don’t think he is under challenge domestically.”

Wu said he expects the meeting to further cement the bond between Xi and Putin, and between China and Russia. He said it is to be expected that Xi will choose to meet with Putin and not U.S. or European leaders on his first overseas trip since the pandemic.

Wu said, “If he goes to the United States or Europe, he will probably face many challenges. When he goes with Putin, he will receive all kinds of praise from his friend, who is happy that he is a strong man.”

Bilateral relations between China and Russia have strengthened over the past few years. They were allies in shoring up communism and during the years of the Communist Revolution in China, many Soviets went to the country to support the movement. Mao Zedong received unconditional support from the Soviet Union since 1949 through millionaire loans. Since 1960, the two countries became estranged, partly due to ideological and political, as well as economic differences.

However, since 2019, with agreements on economic cooperation and Russian gas supplies to China, they have been growing closer, until the Russia-Ukraine war burst onto the global stage to further affirm the ties between Moscow and Beijing.

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