NUR-SULTAN, KAZAKHSTAN – Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed full support for Kazakhstan’s sovereignty at a time when the former Soviet Central Asian region has been spooked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“No matter how the international situation changes, we will continue to resolutely support Kazakhstan in protecting its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mr Xi said during a meeting with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, according to a Kazakh government statement.

Beijing “firmly supports the reform measures President (Tokayev) has taken to maintain national stability and development, and firmly opposes any forces that interfere in Kazakhstan’s internal affairs”, Mr Xi said.

Mr Tokayev hailed Mr Xi’s visit as a reunion of “historic importance”, saying that the Chinese leader’s decision to visit Nur-Sultan first since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic was a sign of “high-level… mutual trust and cooperation”.

The former Soviet Central Asian region, which Russia sees as in its sphere of influence, is key to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a trillion-dollar push to improve trade links across the globe by building landmark infrastructure.

Mr Tokayev said Beijing and Nur-Sultan had “set an example” for cooperation within the huge BRI initiative and praised prospects for further cooperation.

During his three-day visit to Central Asia, Mr Xi is scheduled to attend a summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders in Uzbekistan, where he is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The SCO was established in 2001 as a political, economic and security organisation to rival Western institutions, and the summit will bring together Mr Xi, Mr Putin, Mr Tokayev, as well as leaders from India, Pakistan and three more ex-Soviet Central Asian countries.

Mr Xi wrote ahead of the visit that the group had “set a fine example of a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation, and proved itself an important and constructive force”.

Those were comments echoed by the Kremlin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov who told reporters in Moscow that the SCO members “stand for a just world order”.

He added: “The SCO offers a real alternative to Western-centric organisations.”

Mr Xi, in an article for Chinese state media ahead of the trip, said Beijing was prepared to work with Kazakhstan to “deepen cooperation in law enforcement, security and defence”.

He said also China wanted to work with Kazakhstan on fighting drug trafficking and transnational organised crime, as well as what China calls the “three evils”.