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Putin’s Trip To Beijing To Lend Support To Olympics Amid Boycotts

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By Gao Feng, Yitong Wu and Chingman

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Russian president Vladimir Putin will visit China on the opening day of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 4, holding talks with ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping amid ongoing tensions over the build-up of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine.

The in-person meeting will be the first between the Russian and Chinese leaders since 2019, and will include discussions on how to play “an important stabilizing role,” Putin wrote in a commentary carried by state news agency Xinhua on Thursday.

In the article, Putin hit out at a widespread diplomatic boycott of the Games, which comes amid an international outcry over Beijing’s rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, as well as its escalating military threats against the democratic island of Taiwan.

“Our countries play an important stabilizing role in today’s challenging international environment, promoting greater democracy in the system of international relations to make it more equitable and inclusive,” Putin wrote.

“Sadly, attempts by a number of countries to politicize sports for their selfish interests have recently intensified,” the article said. “This is fundamentally wrong and contrary to the very spirit and principles of the Olympic Charter.”

India said Thursday it would join the U.S., Canada, Australia, Britain and other countries in a diplomatic boycott of the games after China included in the Olympic torch relay a soldier who was involved in a deadly 2020 border clash with Indian troops in the Himalayas, where the nuclear armed powers have territorial disputes.

“It is indeed regrettable that the Chinese side has chosen to politicize an event like the Olympics,” Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Arindam Bagchi told reporters on Thursday.

The Putin-Xi meeting will likely also coincide with the inking of more than 15 energy deals, mostly in the natural gas sector, where bilateral cooperation is booming, and could include plans for a natural gas pipeline to China through Mongolia, the Kremlin said on the eve of Putin’s departure.

“Chinese demand for imported natural gas and oil is only going to increase,” political commentator Joseph Cheng told RFA, saying Russia’s natural gas exports could be adversely affected if it invades Ukraine.

“If Russia really sends troops to Ukraine in the near future, western European countries will probably sanction Russia, and one of the main targets for such sanctions would be the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which was funded by Germany to bring natural gas from Russia,” Cheng said.

“That is likely to be affected, and if western European countries reduce their imports of oil and natural gas from Russia, then China will naturally become a much more important energy market for Russia,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the U.S. government has reportedly formulated a broad economic sanctions plan in response to the situation in Ukraine, including a ban on Russian banks and state-owned enterprises from doing business with U.S. banks and institutions; a ban on Russia’s new sovereign debt transactions and key imports, such as advanced microelectronics.

Cheng said the Kremlin’s potential pivot to China would also boost the international status of both the ruble and the yuan.

Xia Ming, professor of political science at New York’s City University, said Putin’s trip is being made for highly strategic reasons, but that the pivot might not work as well as Moscow hoped.
 
“China is still very different from the West in many aspects, and won’t be a replacement for the U.S. and Europe when it comes to meeting Russia’s economic and financial needs,” Xia told RFA.

“Putin is playing a game of brinkmanship right now, using China to meet those needs, while putting pressure on Europe and the U.S. in a multilateral strategic space.”

Meanwhile, German journalist and rights activist David Missal hit out on Thursday at his country’s government for a not-quite-boycott of the Winter Olympics by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who said he wouldn’t be attending the event, but declined to give a reason.

“In the face of a human rights crisis in China, the German government is still reluctant to talk about an official diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics, which is very shameful,” Missal told RFA.

“This shows that many people in the new government, in the Social Democrats, daren’t publicly criticize the Chinese government,” he said. “The main reason for that is the huge influence wielded by German companies … which leads to some problems with the SDP’s China policy.”

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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Radio Free Asia’s mission is to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press. Content used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

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