The U.S. and key allies will diplomatically boycott next month’s Winter Olympics in China, but Russian President Vladimir Putin is poised to seize on the Games to spotlight strategic ties between Moscow and Beijing.
While the U.S., Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom are keeping official delegations away in protest of Chinese government human rights abuses, Mr. Putin plans to attend the opening ceremony of the Games and hold direct talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“Preparations for the Russia-China summit which will take place in Beijing on February 4, on the opening day of the Winter Olympics, are at full speed, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said,” according to a report published Friday by Moscow’s official TASS news agency.
The agency specifically quoted Mr. Lavrov as saying: “We are preparing an official Russian-Chinese summit. Russian President Vladimir Putin, at the invitation of China’s President Xi Jinping, will visit Beijing … and full-scale talks at the highest level will be held.”
Mr. Putin‘s visit with Mr. Xi comes amid growing concern in U.S. national security circles over increased military-to-military cooperation between Russia and China in an era that Pentagon strategy reports have warned will be defined by “great power competition” between Washington, Beijing and Moscow.
China and Russia have autocratic governments intolerant of dissent, and both have engaged in increased military cooperation over the past year, most notably holding large-scale joint naval exercises in October.
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While the American media has focused intensely on Russian provocations against former Soviet republics such as Ukraine, some U.S. analysts point to bigger-picture concerns in Washington over the prospect of widening China-Russia security cooperation.
Beijing notably offered rhetorical support this month when Moscow sent Russian troops into Kazakhstan to help crush an opposition uprising against the authoritarian, Kremlin-aligned government there.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, has said its decision not to send U.S. diplomats to the Olympic Games in China was driven by a desire to protest the Chinese government‘s own authoritarian tactics, specifically against Uyghur Muslims and other minorities.
U.S. officials accuse China — referred to as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) — of carrying out a genocide against those groups in China‘s Xinjiang province.
“The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games given the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Dec. 6.
Britain, Australia and Japan subsequently joined the diplomatic boycott, citing similar reasons.
Russian officials have made no mention of the Chinese government‘s actions in Xinjiang ahead of Mr. Putin‘s impending visit to Beijing.
On Friday, Mr. Lavrov said the Feb. 4 Putin-Xi talks “will encompass the entire range of relations that are distinguished by an intensive bilateral agenda and the unique architecture of bilateral relations that Russia practically doesn’t have with anyone else.”