President Xi Jinping took a cautious approach to easing his virus prevention measures in Central Asia this week as the Chinese leader navigates a world living with the virus after spending nearly 1,000 days at home.
Xi gave up wearing a mask when meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin and taking photos with leaders such as Mongolian President Khurelsukh Ukhnaa on Thursday.
Yet he skipped a dinner with maskless leaders attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summitwore his face covering when meeting his counterparts from countries including Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and missed a group outing to a tourist spot in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
It is unclear what virus testing protocols – if any – the Chinese side has stipulated for appearing maskless alongside Xi. The Belarusian leader, who visited infectious disease wards without a face covering, was pictured wearing a mask with a Chinese flag, suggesting the Beijing delegation provided it.
Xi’s trip to Central Asia this week marks his first time abroad since the pandemic began in January 2020, ending the longest stint in the country by a Group of 20 leader. offers insight into how Xi could balance attending more international events while respecting his country’s strict rules. Covid Zero Policy.
The Chinese leader plans to attend the G-20 summit in Bali in November, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told Bloomberg last month. This event is followed by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit in Bangkok. The Chinese government has not confirmed Xi’s attendance at either and is cautious about his travel plans.
While China is still locking down cities for a handful of Covid cases and testing millions en masse, the rest of the world has decided to live with the virus, reopen borders and scrap mask mandates. World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday that the end of the pandemic was now “in sight”.
Yet Xi’s conduct in Uzbekistan contrasted with his appearance in Hong Kong earlier this year, where the Chinese leader was masked in photos with city lawmakers. Hong Kong has forced some 1,000 people, including the city’s former leader Carrie Lam, into self-isolation before attending a ceremony with Xi to mark 25 years of Chinese rule in the former British colony.
Xi did not spend the night in Hong Kong, instead crossing the border to southern China’s tech hub Shenzhen during his two-day visit.
The Chinese leader dropped out of the public eye for 10 days after that trip, the biggest gap in his schedule this year, according to a government database detailing his whereabouts – at least giving the impression Xi followed the travel rules of his country.
Below China’s strict zero tolerance As Covid-19 approaches, people entering the world’s second-largest economy from abroad must spend seven days in a quarantine hotel and another three in isolation at home. The Foreign Ministry in Beijing on Tuesday dodged a question about Xi’s quarantine after his visit to Central Asia, which also included a stopover in Kazakhstan earlier this week.
Global investors are watching closely for any signs of change in Beijing’s Covid Zero strategy, as its costs to the economy mount. Economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in a report on Tuesday that they do not expect Beijing to change its virus policy before the country’s annual legislative meeting in March. Other experts have said that Covid Zero could be kept in place for years.
Trey McArver, co-founder of research firm Trivium China, said Xi’s public activities after returning to Beijing from Central Asia could offer clues to the strategy.
“The question is, what will Xi do when he returns?” said MacArver. “Everything he does is going to send a signal about how he’s approaching Covid and, by extension, how thinking about Covid is evolving more broadly in Beijing.”

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