China's President Xi Jinping will make state visits to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan this week, Beijing said Monday -- his first trip abroad since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Russia had already announced last week Xi will meet with President Vladimir Putin at a leaders' summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Uzbekistan, as Moscow seeks to bolster ties with Beijing after being slapped with unprecedented Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.
The Chinese president will also "pay state visits to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan" from Wednesday to Friday at the invitation of Presidents Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The SCO is made up of China, Russia, India, Pakistan, as well as four Central Asian countries -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
The summit in Samarkand, a stop on the ancient silk road, will take place on Thursday and Friday.
Putin and Xi last met in early February in Beijing ahead of the Winter Olympic Games, days before the Russian president sent troops into Ukraine.
Beijing has not condemned Moscow's interventions in Ukraine and provided diplomatic cover by blasting Western sanctions and arms sales to Kyiv.
India's relations with China have been frosty since fighting in 2020 on their disputed Himalayan border left at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers dead. Modi and Xi have not held bilateral talks since 2019.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who took over as leader in April, will also attend the summit, a foreign office official who asked not to be named told AFP.
China is Pakistan's closest economic ally, although relations have strained recently over the scaled-back CPEC project and attacks by separatist militants on Chinese nationals and interests.
- Pivotal period -
The trip will be Xi's first outside China's borders in more than two and a half years.
The Chinese president last went overseas in January 2020 for a state visit to Myanmar. A few days after his return, the entire city of Wuhan was locked down over a Covid outbreak.
Since then, Xi has largely conducted his diplomacy virtually.
But in February, he received several foreign leaders during the Beijing Winter Olympics -- his first in-person meetings with heads of state since the pandemic.
Xi is readying for a pivotal twice-a-decade Congress of the ruling Communist Party in October, where he is widely expected to secure an unprecedented third term as president.
The event, which opens on October 16 in Beijing, will also unveil a new top leadership lineup and likely consolidate Xi's hold on the party.
Previous Chinese leaders generally refrained from making overseas trips in the weeks before the Party Congress, when behind-the-scenes power struggles frequently intensified.
Formerly Cold War allies with a tempestuous relationship, China and Russia have drawn closer in recent years as part of what they call a "no limits" relationship acting as a counterweight to the global dominance of the United States.
Last week, Beijing's top legislator Li Zhanshu became the highest-ranking Communist Party politician to travel to Russia since the Ukraine invasion.