Chinese leader Xi Jinping heads to South Africa Monday on a trip intended to bolster Beijing’s influence among developing and emerging nations, as ties with the United States remain deeply strained and economic troubles bubble up at home.

The three-day state visit, which also includes a summit with leaders of the BRICS emerging economies, is only Xi’s second international trip this year – a sharp contrast to his globe-trotting days of diplomacy before the coronavirus pandemic.

The Chinese leader last left the country in March to meet his “dear friend” Vladimir Putin in Moscow, where the two authoritarian strongmen reaffirmed their strategic alignment against the US and touted their vision for a new world order no longer dominated by the West.