China joins Russia in opposition to Nato expansion at Beijing Winter Olympics opening ceremony

Europe Editor James Mates discusses how diplomatic talks in Beijing impact the situation in Ukraine

Russia and China have pushed back against US pressure over Ukraine and Taiwan as their leaders met at the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Hours before the opening ceremony, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping issued a joint statement highlighting what it called "interference in the internal affairs" of other states in a reference to the current situations in Ukraine and Taiwan.

China joined Russia in its opposition to the expansion of Nato and called for the alliance "to abandon the ideological approaches of the Cold War".

The statement backs up a call from Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who last week told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Moscow’s security concerns need to be addressed, a notable policy shift for Beijing.

The Chinese national flag is raised during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympic Credit: AP

Putin is the most important guest at this year's Winter Olympics after many western nations, including the UK, chose not to send any political representatives to the event in protest to the treatment of the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

The statement issued by the two leaders said: "Some forces representing a minority on the world stage continue to advocate unilateral approaches to resolving international problems and resort to military policy."

China and Russia are committed to “deepening back-to-back strategic cooperation,” Mr Xi was quoted as telling Mr Putin.

“This is a strategic decision that has far-reaching influence on China, Russia and the world,” Mr Xi said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, fourth right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, fourth left, attend talks in Beijing. Credit: AP

Faced with a “complex and evolving international situation,” the two sides “strongly support each other” in confronting what Mr Xi called “regional security threats” and “international strategic stability."

Mr Putin praised “unprecedented” close relations with China, in his opening remarks to President Xi carried by Russian television.

President Putin also recalled his presence in Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics, and the Chinese delegation’s attendance at Russia’s 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, calling such exchanges “to a certain extent a tradition".

Beijing has become the first city to host both winter and summer Games, but the opening ceremony has been watered down partly due to Covid restrictions.

The discussions between the two leaders mark their first in-person meeting since 2019 as the two nations have increasingly aligned their foreign policy's in recent years in opposition to Western powers.

The opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics Credit: AP

A buildup of more than 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine has fueled Western fears that Moscow is poised to invade its neighbour.

Russia has denied planning an offensive but urged the US and its allies to provide a binding pledge that Nato won’t expand to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations or deploy weapons there, and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe - demands firmly rejected by the West.

The US has reacted with promises of severe sanctions and the deployment of more troops to Eastern European Nato countries.

Some observers suggested that Beijing is closely watching how the US and its allies act in the standoff over Ukraine as it ponders further strategy on Taiwan, arguing that indecision by Washington could encourage China to grow more assertive.

The opening ceremony in Beijing Credit: AP

The US is Taiwan’s main supplier of fighter aircraft and defensive arms and is legally bound to treat threats to the island democracy as matters of “grave concern.”

The joint statement said that Russia reaffirms that Taiwan is an integral part of China and opposes Taiwan’s independence in any form.

China claims the self-governing island as its own territory, to be annexed by force if necessary.

Economic and diplomatic cooperation has expanded into the military field in recent years, as Russia and China have held a series of joint war games, including naval drills and patrols by long-range bombers over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea.

In August, Russian troops for the first time deployed to Chinese territory for joint manoeuvres.