As Xi Jinping, China’s leader, visited Central Asian countries this week, he stepped off planes to rousing performances by rows of dancers, musicians and ceremonial guards. Uzbekistan’s leader called him "the greatest statesman,” Chinese state media declared, while the leader of Turkmenistan praised his "wise leadership.” They draped him in medals.

For Beijing, the pomp and fanfare that greeted Xi, as well as the effusive rhetoric of his counterparts, served to show that China is not isolated despite coming under pressure from the United States and much of the West for its human rights violations and threats to Taiwan. Such messaging by China’s propaganda apparatus carries more urgency as Xi prepares to extend his power and elevate his authority at a Communist Party congress next month.

In the narrative presented by Beijing, Xi is the reliable global leader who other countries look to for support in a world made turbulent by U.S. hegemony. Even Vladimir Putin, Russia’s autocratic leader, seemed almost deferential in his meeting with Xi on Thursday, acknowledging that China had "questions and concerns” about Russia’s war in Ukraine.