China’s President Xi Jinping on Wednesday landed in Nur Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, on a state visit.
Xi is traveling abroad for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak caused border closures in January 2020. He was received by his Kazakh counterpart Qasym-Jomart Toqayev at the airport.
After bilateral meetings, the two sides are expected to sign some memorandums of understanding.
After his trip to Kazakhstan, Xi will fly to Uzbekistan’s historic city of Samarkand to attend a two-day Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit beginning Thursday, which will be attended by heads of state and observers.
The last time Xi traveled to neighboring Myanmar was in January 2020.
Xi’s trip coincides with 30 years of diplomatic relations between China and Kazakhstan.
In a signed opinion piece published early today by Kazakhstanskaya Pravda newspaper, the Chinese president lauded the bilateral relations, noting the two countries are “bound together by mountains and rivers and common interests.”
“China and Kazakhstan are good neighbors, good friends and good partners,” he said, pointing to the “epic” of east-west interactions along the ancient Silk Road.
Recalling Al-Farabi, known as “Eastern Aristotle,” and Abai Kunanbayev, the “sage poet” of Kazakhstan, Xi said they “enjoy widespread fame in China.”
The bilateral trade between Kazakhstan and China amounted to $13.5 billion in the first seven months of 2022, which is 38.3% more than that in the same period last year.
The boost in bilateral trade comes as exports of Kazakh goods to China increased by 52% amounting to $8 billion.
“China believes that as long as we keep to the principle of good-neighborly friendship and deepen all-round win-win cooperation, we will surely usher in a more splendid thirty years in China-Kazakhstan relations,” Xi wrote, urging the strengthening of international coordination between the two countries “in all respects.”
Hua Chunying, the spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, said besides attending the 22nd meeting of the Council of Heads of the SCO, Xi will also pay state visits to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan at the invitation of presidents of the two Central Asian states.
The overseas visit of Xi is the focus of international observers as the Chinese president had restricted himself since the pandemic forced border closures in early 2020.
He, however, paid a train trip to Hong Kong in June on the 25th anniversary of the semi-autonomous region's return to China in 1997.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is also expected to attend the SCO summit.
Any meeting between Xi and Putin will be their first physical interaction since Russia’s war on Ukraine started in February.
A multi-national grouping of eight nations, including China, Russia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and India, the SCO is set to accept Iran as its new member.
Whether Xi meets the prime ministers of Pakistan and India, two South Asian neighbors, remains to be seen.
While Islamabad has seen tumultuous political events since early this year, New Delhi and Beijing have been entangled in a border conflict in the Ladakh region of disputed Jammu and Kashmir since May 2020.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also expected to attend the summit since Türkiye, besides Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Armenia, is a dialogue partner of the SCO.
Türkiye became a dialogue partner of the SCO in 2012, which was founded on June 15, 2001.