BEIJING (AFP) - China's President Xi Jinping is poised for his first face-to-face meeting with a world leader in nearly two years on Friday (Feb 4) when he hosts Russia's Vladimir Putin, with the pair drawing closer as tensions grow with the West.
Xi has not left China since January 2020, when the country was grappling with its initial Covid-19 outbreak and locked down the central city of Wuhan where the virus was first detected.
He is now readying to meet more than 20 leaders as Beijing kicks off a Winter Olympics it hopes will be a soft-power triumph and shift focus away from a build-up blighted by a diplomatic boycott and Covid-19 fears.
Xi and Putin will meet in the Chinese capital before their nations release a joint statement reflecting their "common views" on security and other issues, a top Kremlin adviser said at a Wednesday press briefing.
The two strongmen will then attend the Olympic opening ceremony on Friday evening.
Spiralling tensions with the West have bolstered ties between the world's largest nation and its most populous, and Putin was the first foreign leader to confirm his presence at Friday's opening ceremony.
He hailed Russia's "model" relations with Beijing in a December phone call with Xi, calling his Chinese counterpart a "dear friend".
For its part, China has called on the United States to respect Russia's "reasonable security concerns" over Ukraine.
Moscow is looking for support after its deployment of 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine prompted Western nations to warn of an invasion and threaten "severe consequences" in response to any Russian attack.
China enjoyed plentiful support from the Soviet Union - the precursor to the modern Russian state - after the establishment of Communist rule in 1949, but the two socialist powers later fell out over ideological differences.
Relations got back on track as the Cold War ended in the 1990s, and the pair have pursued a strategic partnership in recent years that has seen them work closely on trade, military and geopolitical issues.
Those bonds have strengthened further in the run-up to the Games with Moscow denouncing a diplomatic boycott by a group of Western nations and attempts to "politicise sport".
The boycott by countries including the United States and Britain is over what Western governments argue are widespread rights abuses in China.
Other leaders set to enjoy Xi's hospitality during the Games include Egypt's Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman, Kazakhstan's Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Poland's Andrzej Duda.
In total, around 21 world leaders are expected to attend the Games.
A majority of those leaders rule over non-democratic regimes, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index, with 12 labelled either "authoritarian" or a "hybrid regime".