President Xi Jinping is using his first foreign trip since the start of the pandemic to advance China’s strategic ambitions at a summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and other leaders of the Central Asian security group.
The Chinese leader is pushing ahead with the “Global Security Initiative,” which was announced in April after the Quartet was formed by Washington, Japan, Australia and India in response to Beijing’s more assertive foreign policy. Xi provided few details, but US officials complain that it echoes Russian arguments in support of Moscow’s attack on Ukraine.
This week, Xi, 69, is due to meet Putin in Uzbekistan at a summit of the eight-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which also includes Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan.
“China and Russia are on the same stance in opposing Western practices of imposing sanctions and overthrowing regimes in other countries,” said Li Xin, director of the Shanghai University of Political Science and the Law Institute of European and Asian Studies.
Xi’s trip at a time when his government is urging the Chinese public to avoid overseas travel in line with its “zero COVID” strategy highlights the importance for the ruling Communist Party assertion of China’s role as a regional leader.
The summit takes Xi out of the country as the party prepares for an October convention where he is expected to break political tradition and seek to install himself as leader for a third five-year term.
This suggests that Xi, China’s most powerful leader since at least the 1980s, is confident he doesn’t have to stay at home to make political deals. It could also help raise his profile among the nationalists in the ruling party.
Xi participated in other global meetings via video link. His only trip outside of mainland China since early 2020 was a one-day visit to Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of the end of British colonial rule.
The other SCO governments are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Iran and Afghanistan are observers.
“The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is attracting more and more countries with a new principle that is completely different from the Western approach to relations between countries,” Li said.
China views the group, founded under Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao, as a counterbalance to US alliances in East Asia and the Indian Ocean. Beijing has taken part in intergovernmental military exercises, showing off its rapidly developing forces.
Relations with Washington, Europe, Japan and India are becoming increasingly strained due to complaints about trade, technology, security, Taiwan, Hong Kong, human rights and territorial conflicts at sea and in the Himalayas.
The meeting with Xi is a boost for Putin, who has been isolated since his invasion of Ukraine.
Xi said there was “limitless” friendship between the two governments when the Russian leader attended the Beijing Winter Olympics ahead of the February 24 attacks.
Xi said in April that the Global Security Initiative aims to “support the principle of the indivisibility of security” and “oppose building national security on the basis of insecurity in other countries.”
Despite soft language, US officials and Asian security analysts see Xi’s initiative as a tactic by China, which has the world’s second-largest military after the United States, to dominate the region.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said in April that he appeared to be “repeating what we heard from the Kremlin” as justification for the attack on Ukraine.
“This is a blatant attempt by China to achieve Asian hegemony,” Rajeshwari Pillai Rajagopalan of the Indian think tank Observer Research Foundation wrote in The Diplomat. It is “designed to advance China’s interests in its great power competition with the United States.”
At a July meeting, Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that China would “strengthen strategic ties” with Moscow on international security issues, China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
This will “show the underlying dynamics of the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Russia” and “apply true multilateralism,” the ministry said in a statement.
AP researcher Yu Bin contributed.