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Chinese President Xi Jinping held his first face-to-face talks with a world leader in nearly two years on Friday, meeting Russia’s Vladimir Putin who hailed “unprecedented” ties between neighbors as tensions rise with the West.

Xi has not left China since January 2020, when the country grappled with its first Covid-19 outbreak and locked down the central city of Wuhan where the virus was first detected.

He is now embarking on a sudden flurry of diplomatic activity as more than 20 world leaders head to the Winter Olympics, an event China hopes will be a triumph of soft power and a change from a buildup marred by a Diplomatic boycott and Covid fears.

The two leaders met in the Chinese capital as their countries seek to deepen relations in the face of growing criticism from the West.

Xi said he believed the meeting would “inject more vitality into Sino-Russian relations”, according to CCTV.

A document agreed by the countries says they ‘oppose further NATO enlargement’ and calls on the US-led defense bloc to abandon ‘war-age’ approaches cold,” the Kremlin said in a later briefing.

Moscow is seeking support after its deployment of 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine prompted Western nations to warn of an invasion and threaten “serious consequences” in response to any Russian attack.

Putin and Xi also criticized Washington’s “negative impact on peace and stability” in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the Kremlin.

In televised remarks at the start of their meeting, Putin described Russia and China as an “example of a dignified relationship”.

Russia has also prepared a new contract for the supply of 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas to China from the Russian Far East, Putin said.

olympic host

The two leaders will attend the Olympic opening ceremony on Friday evening.

While Russian officials are banned from attending international sports competitions due to a doping scandal, they can attend if invited by the host country’s head of state.

Soaring tensions with the West have strengthened ties between the world’s largest and most populous nation, and Putin was the first foreign leader to confirm his presence at the Olympics.

“I have known President Xi Jinping for a long time,” CCTV quoted Putin as saying in a report on Friday.

“As good friends and politicians who share many common views on solving global issues, we have always maintained close communication.”

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency also published an article by Putin on Thursday in which the Russian leader profiled two neighbors with increasingly shared global goals.

He also denounced the US-led Western diplomatic boycott of the Olympics, sparked by China’s human rights record.

“Unfortunately, attempts by a number of countries to politicize sport for their selfish interests have recently intensified,” Putin wrote, calling the measures “fundamentally wrong.”

China enjoyed abundant support from the Soviet Union – the forerunner of the modern Russian state – after the establishment of communist rule in 1949, but the two socialist powers later fell out over differences ideological.

Relations got back on track when the Cold War ended in the 1990s, and the pair have pursued a strategic partnership in recent years that has seen them work closely together on trade, military and geopolitical issues.

These ties were further strengthened during the Xi era, at a time when Russia and China increasingly find themselves at odds with Western powers.

Other leaders who will benefit from Xi’s hospitality during the Games include Egyptian Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, Kazakhstan’s Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Poland’s Andrzej Duda.

About 21 world leaders are expected at the Games.

A majority of these leaders govern undemocratic regimes, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index.

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