On Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with the presidents of Serbia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, using the Winter Olympics to reclaim the diplomatic initiative amid simmering tensions with the U.S.
The news: Xi held the discussions ahead of a Lunar New Year-themed luncheon at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Saturday, following a ground-breaking deal with Russia on Friday.
- The banquet marked the first time since the outbreak of COVID-19 in late 2019 that the Chinese president has attended a gathering of state leaders.
What Xi said: Toasting his fellow leaders, Xi expressed “heartfelt thanks to all governments, peoples and international organisations who care about and support the Beijing Winter Olympics.”
- “China has made every effort to overcome the impact of the coronavirus epidemic, earnestly fulfilled its solemn commitments to the international community and ensured the Beijing Winter Olympics is being held as scheduled,” Xi said in a speech.
What’s going on: Over 30 world leaders have arrived in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, despite the fact that the U.S. and other Western countries have boycotted the event due to escalating geopolitical tensions and allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang’s northern province.
- The Global Times, a publication of the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, reacted angrily to claims that the event drew solely “authoritarian” leaders, accusing them of employing “outdated anti-China tropes” in an editorial.
- On Saturday morning, Xi met separately with Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, and Egyptian President Abdel Fatta Al-Sisi to discuss Belt and Road-related infrastructure investments and cooperation in the fight against COVID-19.
- He also informed Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov that the two countries’ collaboration on natural gas delivery to China should be strengthened.
What’s important: According to a joint statement released after Xi’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, Moscow reiterated opposition to any form of Taiwanese independence, while China stated its support for Russia’s resistance to NATO expansion.
- Russia has stockpiled 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border in an attempt to persuade Kiev to rule out future NATO membership.
- The joint statement was described as “highly significant” by Kevin Rudd, former Australian prime minister and president of the Asia Society.
- On Saturday, Rudd wrote that this was “the first time since the Sino-Soviet split that China has taken a definitive position on European security to support Russia on something as fundamental as NATO.”
- Taiwan, on the other hand, called the timing of the agreement “contemptible,” adding that the Chinese government was dishonouring the Olympic spirit.