- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2021

It doesn’t rank as a big surprise, but Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed Wednesday he won’t be honoring President Biden’s call for a “diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.

During a warm, hourlong video meeting of the minds with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mr. Putin praised the state of bilateral relations and became the first international leader to confirm he would be traveling to China in February for the opening ceremony of the Games.

The mini-scoop was just a small sign of a much larger strategic convergence marked by Wednesday’s call, as the onetime Cold War Communist rivals have found common cause amid deteriorating relations within the U.S. Both Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin appeared eager to endorse the other’s main complaints in the clash with Washington, rejecting what the U.S. government calls the “rules-based international order” based on Western values, human rights and free markets.

“At present, certain international forces under the guise of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ are interfering in the internal affairs of China and Russia, and brutally trampling on international law and recognized norms of international relations,” Mr. Xi said at the top of the meeting, according to the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency. “China and Russia should increase their joint efforts to more effectively safeguard the security interests of both parties.”

Calling China and Russia now “closer than allies,” Mr. Xi in the meeting endorsed Russia’s recent call for security “guarantees” limiting NATO’s expansion into areas such as Ukraine on the Russian border. Mr. Putin, for his part, said he shared China’s “negative view” of Western military and diplomatic activity in East Asia — including a just-announced U.S. agreement to provide Australia with nuclear submarines and the burgeoning U.S. “Quad” alliance with India, Japan and Australia widely seen as a way to contain Beijing.

Even the atmospherics of the virtual chat was far different from the longer, much more businesslike virtual summit between Mr. Putin and Mr. Biden earlier this week. The Chinese and Russian leaders smiled and waved to each other through the camera at the beginning of the meeting. Both were backed by an array including both the Chinese and Russian flags.

SEE ALSO: Kremlin: Xi supports Putin’s pursuit of guarantees from West

The bilateral relationship has its difficulties. China has raced ahead economically, with a huge development edge on its side of the long border with Russia. Beijing did not endorse Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and Russia has not supported Beijing’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Still, the two men clearly have bonded in the face of pressure from the West and the U.S. in particular, with Mr. Putin engaging in a little pre-Olympic flattery of his interlocutor.

Mr. Putin added that he expects the games to come off smoothly because the Chinese organizers “know how to do it,” according to a readout of the meeting by the Russian TASS news service.

Mr. Biden last week confirmed that no U.S. officials would be attending the Beijing Games, citing what he said was China’s poor human rights record, its harsh treatment of the ethnic Muslim Uyghur population in Xinjiang and its aggressive policies in the region.

U.S. athletes would still be allowed to compete in the games, Mr. Biden said.

To date, only a few close allies — Canada, Britain and Australia among them — have said they plan to follow the U.S. lead, while other countries, including France, Argentina and South Korea, have already rejected the idea.

Mr. Xi reportedly responded to Mr. Putin’s remarks that he, too, looked forward to an “Olympic meeting” between the two leaders in February. The Chinese media reported Wednesday that the virtual talk was the second for Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi this year and their 37th face-to-face talks since 2013, the year Mr. Xi became president.

• David R. Sands can be reached at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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