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Xi’s Visit to South Africa for BRICS Marks Rare Trip Abroad

(Bloomberg) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend the BRICS summit in South Africa next week, a rare journey abroad for the leader who has preferred to stay home this year amid mounting political problems.

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Xi will make the trip to Johannesburg starting Monday at the invitation of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday.

Ramaphosa and Xi will also host a dialogue of leaders from around Africa — where China has pushed to expand its influence with infrastructure projects, a strategy the US says has entrapped some nations in debt.

More: Five Things to Watch as South Africa Hosts BRICS Summit

Xi spent just two days outside China in the first six months of 2023, the fewest in any first half since he took power more than a decade ago, excluding the pandemic. That trip in March was a border hop to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has maintained China’s economic and diplomatic support during his invasion of Ukraine.

The Chinese leader has instead made foreign dignitaries come to him, a tactic that has allowed him to focus on problems at home. China is dealing with worries about an economic recovery hampered by troubles in the property market, financial contagion due to a crisis at a giant shadow bank, and corruption probes in the health-care industry and military.

See: Xi’s Spent Two Days Outside China in 2023 as Problems Mount

The trip to South Africa will give Xi a chance to meet leaders from the Global South, which China is courting to offset what it sees as the US’s undue global influence.

This week, Indian and Chinese army commanders agreed to work swiftly toward easing their border dispute, which included a deadly clash in 2020. While the talks didn’t amount to a breakthrough, they did open the door for progress in negotiations between Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

More: China’s Bid to Expand BRICS Said to Get India, Brazil Pushback

The trip will also give Xi a chance to make his case for BRICS expansion, something India and Brazil have opposed. China has been a keen proponent of the bloc comprising the Asian nation, Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa that was officially formed in 2009-2010, largely to counter what it calls US “hegemony.” BRICS has even discussed a potential a common currency, though progress toward that goal isn’t expected.

The summit comes amid heightened China-US tensions and after South Africa fretted over Putin’s attendance. He will participate virtually to avoid South Africa having to carry out an International Criminal Court arrest warrant on him for alleged war crimes.

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