Putin’s visit to Beijing to take part in the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in February next year will make him the first state leader to meet face to face with Xi since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the central Chinese province of Wuhan in 2019.
“China and Russia have a fine tradition of celebrating major events together. In 2014 Xi attended the Winter Olympics ceremony in Sochi in Russia,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing here on Tuesday.
“Now President Xi Jinping is inviting his good friend President Putin to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics. President Putin has accepted the invitation happily,” Zhao said.
He said the two sides are in close communication on details of the visit.
“We believe this will once again show the partnership between China and Russia that helps for the best for each other. We hope and we are convinced that the athletes from the two countries will set new records and we will make new contributions to deliver a splendid and safe Olympics,” Zhao said.
Biden said last week that backing a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in February is “something we’re considering.”
Beijing is making grand preparations to host the Winter Olympic Games to be held in February next year.
The event makes Beijing the only city in the world to have hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics. The city hosted the Summer Olympics in 2008.
Besides the US, EU and several other western countries were expected to join the diplomatic boycott, which meant that their leaders and diplomats will not take part in the opening and closing ceremonies while their athletes participate in the sports events.
US first lady Jill Biden led the American contingent to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo this year and the second gentleman Doug Emhoff led a delegation to the Paralympic Games.
China and Russia are firming up their strategic relations in recent years amid the US and EU push against them on a host of issues including human rights violations.
The calls for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics grew louder after the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai went missing after alleging a senior ruling Communist Party leader forced her into a sexual relationship.
Peng, 35, went missing after she alleged over WeChat on November 17 she was forced into a sexual relationship by China’s former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli,75 after his retirement from power in 2017.
Her explosive #MeToo allegation posted in her WeChat account on November 17 was scrubbed out of the social media by Chinese censors. Subsequently, reports stating that she went missing created an international furore.
The UN, the US and a host of international Tennis stars including Serena Williams expressed concern over her sudden disappearance and asked China to disclose her whereabouts.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has also reportedly threatened to pull tournaments out of China.
In the last few days, in an apparent damage control move, Chinese official media journalists posted photos and videos of her taking part in public events.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) also said Peng had a 30-minute video call with its president Thomas Bach the same day.
However, doubts remain over Peng’s freedom of movement.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is worried that her allegation of sexual assault would be censored and swept under the rug, according to a statement from WTA chairman Steve Simon, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday.
According to the WTA, the senior official at the centre of the sexual assault allegation is former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli.
Neither Zhang – who served as the head of the Beijing Winter Olympics working group from 2015 to 2018 and met Bach in 2016 nor the Chinese government has commented on the allegation.
Amnesty International meanwhile warned the IOC that the sports body is entering dangerous waters and it should be extremely careful not to participate in any possible whitewash of violation of human rights by China.
Reacting to Amnesty’s comments, foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao said “The so-called organisation you mentioned is obsessed with anti-China views” he said adding that its remarks are not worth any rebuttal.
On Peng’s disappearance, Zhao who has been parrying questions in the last few days saying that it is not a diplomatic question on Tuesday drew to the notice of the media her video conversation with the IOC President.
“I believe you may have noticed she attended open activities. She also had a video call with the IOC President. We hope relevant sides can stop malicious hype-up” stop politicising the issue.
The diplomatic boycott by the US and its allies could cast a shadow over the grand opening ceremony being planned by China for the event as their official delegations will be conspicuously absent flagging the human rights issues.
The US and EU countries accused China of widespread human rights allegations amounting to genocide against Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang who were opposed to the increasing settlements majority Han Chinese.
They are also critical of the human rights situation in Hong Kong and Tibet.