Xi Jinping to attend opening ceremony at Sochi Olympics
President's decision to make trip to Winter Games despite calls for international boycott seen as sign of strengthening ties with Russia
President Xi Jinping will attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi amid international calls to boycott the event.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a brief statement that Xi would be in Russia for three days from February 6 for the opening ceremony, but gave no further details.
Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said it was the first time Xi would attend a large-scale international sport event. Xi's attendance showed "China's support to Russia hosting the Winter Olympics", Qin said.
"China pays high regard to, and actively participates in, the international Olympics," he said.
Russia adopted a law in June that banned providing information about homosexuality to people under 18, triggering protests from human rights groups and calls for a boycott of the games.
Xi's decision to attend the event is a positive development for Russian President Vladimir Putin after US President Barack Obama and his German counterpart, Joachim Gauck, both said they would not travel to Russia for the games.
Observers said Beijing wanted to strengthen political ties with Moscow by showing its support and attending the opening ceremony.
"By supporting Russia, China is showing that its ties with Moscow are developing," said Tian Chunsheng, a Russian affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Zhang Jianrong , a professor of Russia Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said that China and Russia wanted to use the Winter Games to show their relationship was improving.
"It shows the momentum for a strong relationship between the two nations, despite international calls to boycott the games," he said.
In an interview with Chinese state television, Putin recalled how he spent his 61st birthday with Xi last October. "Last time on my birthday, we drank a little vodka together," he said. "We even had sandwiches like university students."
Putin also said he was satisfied with the development of Sino-Russian ties and that he had a lot of friends in China.
He added that Russia welcomed China's investment in Sochi on the Black Sea coast.
In addition to Xi, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also planning to attend the opening ceremony and is expected to hold a summit with Putin, Kyodo News reported.
Finland's sport minister has said he would boycott the opening ceremony over Russia's "limitations in the freedom of speech and repression of sexual minorities".
Additional reporting by Reuters, Darren Wee