Xi to Make First Visit Outside Mainland China After More Than Two Years

After 893 days in the mainland, Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to finally cross the border despite Beijing still applies a zero-Covid policy that has isolated the world’s second largest economy diplomatically amid rising geopolitical tensions.

Xi will visit Hong Kong over the next two days for events that mark 25 years of Chinese rule in the special administrative region. Although China has sovereignty over Hong Kong, the borders have been closed since the pandemic started.

Xi is expected to arrive in the city on Thursday, but the government hasn’t revealed details of his itinerary.

Since the start of the pandemic, Xi has halted all international travel. His last trip out of the mainland was to Myanmar on Jan. 18,2020, just days before the city of Wuhan went into lockdown. Since then, he has continued a policy of eliminating cases with strict restrictions on movement and closed borders although other nations started to open up.

Sino-U.S. relations have deteriorated during the pandemic because of several issues including imports of high-tech products such as chips, political freedoms in Hong Kong and allegations of genocide in Xinjiang. Beijing’s relations with Australia have also dipped over Canberra’s call for an inquiry into the origins of Covid, and Beijing’s increased military pressure on Taiwan has raised tensions in the region.

Twelve of the G-20 leaders are in Germany and Spain this week for G-7 and NATO meetings, where China is a key topic of discussion. Xi had skipped both a G-20 meeting in Rome last year and a climate summit right after, choosing to attend both events by video call.

Xi has also spoken to Biden four times since the U.S. President took office in January 2021, but again relied on phone calls and video.

One rare opportunity for Xi to conduct in person meetings presented itself in February when Beijing hosted the winter olympics, which was diplomatically boycotted by the U.S., Australia, Canada and the UK over China’s alleged human rights abuses. Still Xi held 18 bilateral meetings, including with Putin, whom he joined hands with to declare a “no limits” partnership just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Since then, China has come under fire from the US over its refusal to condemn Putin’s war, with the Biden administration warning of consequences for providing either shelter from sanctions or military equipment. So far, there’s no evidence Beijing has done either.

Xi’s Hong Kong visit is seen as more of a domestic show of strength than any embrace of a more outward-looking agenda.

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