BEIJING - Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Friday that China would consider hosting the third Belt & Road Forum for International Cooperation next year, which would be the first staging of the event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Belt & Road is Xi's signature infrastructure investment initiative, and previous editions of the forum, in 2017 and 2019, drew leaders and officials from dozens of countries.

However, China has all-but-shut its borders since COVID and cancelled most big in-person international events that it had been due to host.

China has recently begun to ease some elements of its strict zero-COVID policy, even as the country battles surging outbreaks in numerous cities, with many analysts predicting more significant opening up starting in March or April.

Xi was speaking on Friday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering in Bangkok.

In February, Beijing staged the Winter Olympics inside a "closed loop".

(Reporting by Tony Munroe and Albee Zhang; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Raju Gopalakrishnan)