President Xi Jinping reached Sochi in Russia on Thursday to attend the opening ceremony of the 22nd Winter Olympic Games. By accepting the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend the event, Xi has not only become the first Chinese head of state to attend a major sports event abroad, but also proved that China-Russia relations have been moving full steam ahead.
Xi's Feb 6-8 visit to Russia is his first foreign trip in the Year of the Horse. Incidentally, Russia was also the destination of his first overseas trip after taking office as China's president in March 2013.
The massive investment and careful preparation Moscow has made for the Sochi Winter Olympics will, no doubt, demonstrate Russia's vitality and openness under the leadership of Putin, and give full play to the Olympic spirit. But the run-up to the Sochi Games was marred by several developments.
Two deadly attacks on the public transit system of the southern Russian city of Volgograd in late December killed at least 34 people and left more than 100 injured. The attacks, however, didn't prevent some countries from politicizing sports and threatening to boycott the Sochi Games by citing human rights issues. That is why Xi's attendance at the Games acquires special importance for Russia; it reflects China's support for Putin's endeavor to hold a successful Winter Games.
The development of China-Russia ties has had a far-reaching impact on the international community. Since March last year, Xi and Putin have met five times, talked over the telephone three times and exchanged letters 16 times. Needless to say, they have established a close working relationship and personal friendship, which was reflected at last year's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Indonesia. Putin celebrated his birthday with Xi during the APEC meeting, and later told reporters that they drank vodka and ate the cake that Xi had given him.
The Russian president has emphasized that Russia and China share a special relationship and that he has a special feeling for China. Xi's Chinese Dream and Putin's vision to revive Russia within 20 years both are aimed at nation building and can drive China-Russia ties to greater heights in the coming years.
Summit diplomacy has a very prominent role in the strategic layout and top-level design of bilateral partnership, and the two countries have been cooperating more closely in dealing with bilateral, regional and international issues. At the bilateral level, China has been Russia's largest trading partner for four years. And their cooperation in large strategic projects, including projects to increase oil and natural gas supplies to China, is advancing steadily.
The two countries have also discussed ways to deepen cooperation in building a Silk Road economic belt, and this year China will be hosting China-Russia Youth Year of Friendship Exchanges — followed by Russia in 2015 — to foster people-to-people exchanges, especially friendship among the youth.
Besides, China and Russia have been cooperating to resolve the Syrian crisis, and the Iranian and Korean Peninsula nuclear issues. In particular, China's frigate Yancheng joined the warships of Russia, Denmark and Norway to escort Syria's chemical weapons for destruction. During the mission, China and Russia cooperated tacitly, reflecting their willingness to take the responsibility of establishing world peace and security.
In Sochi, Xi and Putin held talks on advancing bilateral ties in 2014, exchanged views on deepening cooperation in big and practical projects and people-to-people exchanges, and set the plan to tackle major international and regional issues. In this context, Xi's visit to Russia will consolidate China-Russia friendship and strategic cooperation.
This year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relationship between China and Russia, and the meeting between Xi and Putin will make their bilateral relations develop “higher, faster and stronger”.
The author is deputy director of China Institute of International Studies. The article first appeared in the People's Daily Overseas Edition.