Xi leaves for Sochi ceremony

Updated: 2014-02-06 00:48

By WU JIAO in Beijing and LEI LEI in Sochi, Russia (China Daily)

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President Xi Jinping is scheduled to leave Beijing on Thursday to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

It is the first time for a Chinese president to attend a major overseas sports event, signaling China's strong support for the Olympics and Russia's efforts to host the games.

Xi leaves for Sochi ceremony 

Russian soldiers raise China's national flag during a welcoming ceremony for the team in the Athletes Village at Olympic Park ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, on Wednesday. Vadim Ghirda / Associated Press 

It is also the second consecutive year that Xi has made Russia his first overseas trip of the year, which reflects the "uniqueness" of the Sino-Russia relationship, according to Chinese ambassador to Russia Li Hui.

During his three-day stay there from Feb 6 to 8, Xi is expected to attend the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, meet the Chinese sports delegation, and hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Last year, besides Xi's state visit to Russia in March, the two presidents met four times at international events.

Xi's visit demonstrates the "high level and uniqueness" of China-Russia ties, and the good working relationship and friendship between leaders of the countries, Li told Moscow-based Chinese press last week.

It also shows the nations' mutual support on issues of major concern, Li said.

In an interview with Chinese state television, Putin said he was satisfied with the development of Sino-Russian ties and that he had a lot of friends in China.

Putin recalled how he spent his 61st birthday with Xi last October. "Last time on my birthday, we drank a little vodka together," he said. "We even had sandwiches like university students."

He added that Russia welcomed China's investment in Sochi on the Black Sea coast.

In addition to Xi, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced he would attend the opening ceremony and is expected to hold talks with Putin, Kyodo News reported.

Even as the two leaders are bound for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, Beijing in late January ruled out "any form of meeting" between Xi and Abe.

Ties between China and Japan, already impaired by lingering territorial and historical issues, suffered a huge setback in December when Abe visited the Yasukuni shrine that worships war dead, including World War II war criminals. The visit has prompted Beijing to name Abe an "unwelcome" person.

Xi's visit to Sochi also aims to win support for the joint bid by Beijing and neighboring Hebei province's Zhangjiakou to co-host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. The cities launched their bid on Nov 3.

On Wednesday, the Chinese national flag rose at the Olympic village, marking the start of their Winter Olympic trip in the coastal city.

China is sending 66 athletes to compete at the Sochi Games. They will compete in 49 events involving four sports.

The flag bearer of the delegation is figure skater Tong Jian, who claimed the silver medal in pair figure skating four years ago in Vancouver with partner Pang Qing.

Xinhua contributed to this story.