| Global Times | 2014-1-21 0:43:01
By Jiang Jie
President Xi Jinping will attend the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games next month, the first time a Chinese leader has attended a large-scale sports event abroad.
His attendance comes amid the refusal of a number of Western leaders to attend the ceremony, reportedly due to Russia's anti-gay propaganda law.
At the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Xi will be in host city Sochi from February 6 to 8, announced China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Monday.
"President Xi Jinping's attendance at the opening ceremony … shows China's support to Olympic Movement and Russia's host of the Winter Games," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular press conference on Monday.
"We hope that Russia will successfully hold this Winter Olympics," he said.
Putin attended the Beijing Summer Olympics opening ceremony in 2008.
Russia has faced criticism and threats to boycott the 22nd Winter Olympics, from February 7 to 23, after a law was passed in June, 2013, which outlawed the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" around minors.
Celebrities and LGBT activists first protested the legislation, but the Games began to see boycotts from major political figures when German President Joachim Gauck made the decision not to attend in protest against "human rights violations" in December, 2013, reported German magazine, Der Spiegel.
US President Barack Obama, who has openly criticized Russia's LGBT legislation, also said he would not travel to Russia, after he chose openly gay athletes Billie Jean King and Brian Boitano as part of the US delegation for the opening and closing ceremonies.
The UK has announced it is to send Culture Secretary Maria Miller to Sochi. Miller was responsible for steering the passing of the UK's recent legalization of same-sex marriage through parliament, Reuters reported.
In response to this, President Putin said during a joint interview with international news outlets, recorded in Sochi on Friday, that "the Olympics is not a competition of politicians. It is a competition of athletes."
Putin also emphasized that Russia welcomes all athletes and all guests at the Olympics.
Li Xing, a professor of Russian and Asian affairs from the School Government of Beijing Normal University, said it is inappropriate for some Western countries to link sports events to political issues like human rights.
"China's presence demonstrates great support for Russia, which is under dual pressure from criticism and the terrorism threat," said Li.
Li said that China's decision will be a fulfillment of the pledge as the two countries have vowed to support each other on issues concerning their core interests, and it is also consistent with China's national interests.
"Sochi is on the Silk Road Economic Belt, a trade route proposed by President Xi in September last year. Diplomatic activities in the area can help boost economic ties," he noted.
Jiang Yi, deputy director of Russian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, agreed.
"As the two nations vow to further deepen their relations and the development of the economic belt, we can expect more and better economic and commercial cooperation and at a larger scale," he said.
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