China's Xi visits Russia, says Sochi Games to be splendid
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's President Xi Jinping said Russia's Winter Olympics would be splendid, state media reported, a show of support during a meeting with his Russian counterpart before Friday's official opening of the Games in Sochi.
Xi met with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Thursday, a visit that coincides with a trip by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, which faces sharply deteriorating ties with China involving spats over tiny uninhabited islands.
The presence of both leaders is a seal of approval for Putin and shows the political stakes at play in what has been a controversial run-up to the Olympics given Russia's domestic law against gay "propaganda" and concerns over security.
Xi "voiced his confidence that, with Russia's careful preparations, the Sochi Winter Olympics will be a splendid and unforgettable sports event", the official Xinhua news agency said.
The Sochi games are a symbol of Russian prosperity "under the leadership of Putin", Xinhua said, citing Xi, who will stay in Sochi for three days until February 8.
The news agency also said that Putin had agreed to commemorate with China the 70th anniversary of countries' wartime victories against the Japanese to "educate future generations" on issues including the "serious crimes committed by the Japanese imperialist military in China and other Asian countries."
Concerns over possible breaches of security during the Sochi Olympics are running high and Putin has ordered safety measures to be beefed up nationwide after 34 people were killed in December bombings in Volgograd, another city in southern Russia.
Russian forces are on high alert over threats by Islamist militant groups based in the nearby north Caucasus to attack the Winter Games.
Beijing has said that it has complete faith that Russia will guarantee security in Sochi. The United States in particular has expressed worries about the security situation.
U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German President Joachim Gauck are not attending the Games.
China has long warned against the politicizing of Olympic Games. In 2008, there were concerns in China that the opening ceremony of its Beijing Summer Olympics that year would be overshadowed by Russia's military confrontation with Georgia over the disputed breakaway region of South Ossetia.
Putin, who launched a war to crush a rebellion in nearby Chechnya in 1999, has staked his reputation on the Games, which at around $50 billion will be the most expensive in Olympic history.
(Reporting by Michael Martina, editing by Mitch Phillips)