BEIJING – Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Uzbekistan next week, Tass reported, during the Chinese leader’s first trip abroad in 2 1/2 years.
Mr Xi will sit down with Mr Putin on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit that runs from Sept 15-16 in Samarkand, Russia’s ambassador to China Andrey Denisov said on Wednesday, according to the state-run news agency.
“We are planning a serious, full-fledged meeting of our leaders with a detailed agenda, which we are now, in fact, working on with our Chinese partners,” Mr Denisov told reporters, according to the report.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said she did not have information on any such meeting at a Wednesday news briefing in Beijing.
Mr Xi is also expected to travel to neighbouring Kazakhstan on Sept 14 for a state visit, which Beijing has not confirmed.
The swing through Central Asia would mark a return to the world stage for Mr Xi, the only Group of 20 leader who has not set foot outside his country during the pandemic.
The face-to-face with Mr Putin will be the first since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, and comes amid a flurry of diplomacy between Moscow and Beijing.
China and India are currently involved in major military exercises in Russia’s far east, while Beijing’s No. 3 official Li Zhanshu is speaking in person at the Seventh Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on Wednesday.
China has sought to present itself as a neutral party in Russia’s war in Ukraine, despite Mr Xi’s declaration of a “no limits” partnership with Mr Putin weeks before the invasion.
While Beijing has not explicitly criticised Moscow’s six-month-long war, its leaders have also avoided providing sanctions relief or military supplies to Russia.
The face-to-face with Mr Putin also comes as Mr Xi prepares for a major leadership summit next month, where he’s expected to clinch a landmark third term in office.
Geopolitical tensions are running high before the event, following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip last month to Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory.
China has sought to gain diplomatic support for its position on Taiwan, pushing back on calls by the US and its allies to exercise restraint. BLOOMBERG