Xi is widely expected to break with precedent at a Communist Party congress that starts on Oct 16 and secure a third five-year leadership term.
While Xi has met Putin in person 38 times since becoming China’s president in 2013, he has yet to meet Joe Biden in person since the latter became US President in 2021.
Xi last met Putin in February just weeks before the Russian president ordered the invasion of Ukraine which has left tens of thousands of people dead and sown chaos through the global economy.
At that meeting at the opening of the Winter Olympics, Xi and Putin declared a “no limits” partnership, backing each other over standoffs on Ukraine and Taiwan with a promise to collaborate more against the West.
China has refrained from condemning Russia’s operation against Ukraine or calling it an “invasion” in line with the Kremlin which casts the war as “a special military operation”.
“The bigger message really isn’t that Xi is supporting Putin, because it’s been pretty clear that Xi supports Putin,” said Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.
“The bigger signal is that he, Xi Jinping, is going out of China for the first time since the pandemic in the run-up to the party congress. If there were going to be plottings against him this is when the plottings would happen. And he’s clearly confident that the plottings are not going to take place because he is out of the country.”
Xi, the son of a communist revolutionary, is poised to secure a historical third leadership term at the 20th Communist Party Congress beginning on Oct 16. He last left China in January 2020, before the world went into COVID lockdown.
After the West imposed on Moscow the most severe sanctions in modern history due to the war in Ukraine, Putin says Russia is turning towards Asia after centuries of looking to the West as the crucible of economic growth, technology and war.
Casting the West as a declining, US-dominated coalition which aims to shackle – or even destroy – Russia, Putin’s worldview chimes with that of Xi, who presents China as an alternative to the US-led, post-World War II order.
Putin aide Ushakov said the Xi-Putin meeting would be “very important”. He did not give further details.
As Europe seeks to turn away from Russian energy imports, Putin will seek to boost energy exports to China and Asia.
He will also hold three-way Russian-Chinese summit with Mongolia – a potentially much shorter route for Russian energy from Western Siberia to China.
He said last week that a major gas export route to China via Mongolia had been agreed. Gazprom has for years been studying the possibility of a major new gas pipeline – the Power of Siberia 2 – to travel through Mongolia taking Russian gas to China.
It will carry 50 billion cubic metres of gas per year, around a third of what Russia usually sells Europe – or equivalent to the Nord Stream 1 annual volumes.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Russia, China, India, Pakistan and four Central Asian states, is due to admit Iran, one of Moscow’s key allies in the Middle East.