BEIJING – Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on Sept 14-16, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday, in what would be his first official trip to a foreign nation since China all but shut its borders due to Covid-19.

Mr Xi will attend a leaders’ summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, and “pay state visits to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan”, Xinhua news agency said.

On Sunday, Kazakhstan and the Kremlin said that Mr Xi will meet Russia President Vladimir Putin, just a month before he is set to cement his place as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.

His trip comes against a backdrop of Russia’s confrontation with the West over Ukraine, the crisis over Taiwan and a stuttering global economy.

Mr Putin’s foreign policy aide, Yuri Ushakov, told reporters last week that the Russian president was expected to meet Mr Xi at the SCO summit. The Kremlin declined to give details on their talks.

The meeting will give Mr Xi an opportunity to underscore his clout while Mr Putin can demonstrate Russia’s tilt towards Asia; both leaders can show their opposition to the United States just as the West seeks to punish Russia for the Ukraine war.

“It is all about Xi in my view: he wants to show just how confident he is domestically and to be seen as the international leader of nations opposed to Western hegemony,” said George Magnus, author of “Red Flags”, a book about Mr Xi’s challenges.

“Privately I imagine Xi will be most anxious about how Putin’s war is going and indeed if Putin or Russia are in play at some point in the near future because China still needs an anti-Western leadership in Moscow.”

Russia suffered its worst defeat of the war last week, abandoning its main bastion in north-eastern Ukraine.

The deepening “no limits” partnership between the rising superpower of China and the natural resources titan of Russia is one of the most intriguing geopolitical developments of recent years – and one the West is watching with anxiety.

Once the senior partner in the global Communist hierarchy, Russia after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union is now considered a junior partner of a resurgent Communist China which is forecast to overtake the United States as the world’s biggest economy in the next decade.

Though historical contradictions abound in the partnership, there is no sign that Mr Xi is ready to drop his support for Putin in Russia’s most serious confrontation with the West since the height of the Cold War.

Instead, the two 69-year-old leaders are deepening ties.

Trade soared by nearly a third between Russia and China in the first seven months of 2022.