LONDON, Feb. 8 -- Chinese President Xi Jinping's attendance at the opening ceremony of the on-going Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia underscores China's emphasis on the soft power aspect of sports and its growing involvement in high-level diplomacy, British experts have said.
"China's high-level diplomacy was an occasional concern to China's leaders, but now it shares top priority with domestic issues," said Stephen Perry, chairman of the 48 Group Club, an independent business network committed to promoting relations between Britain and China.
Xi's visit to the Russian resort city of Sochi from Thursday to Saturday marks the first attendance by a Chinese head of state at an opening ceremony of a major overseas sports event, and the second time for the Chinese leader to make Russia his first overseas trip in the new year.
Perry, a seasoned British entrepreneur and China watcher, said Xi's Sochi trip shows that China's foreign policy is more "proactive," adding that the country sees sports as an aspect of "soft power."
"In this period, China's domestic reforms are being challenged by some international adventurism. China will act more proactively to ensure global stability and peace," he said.
According to Perry, the synergy of Russia and China has been "clear and developed in stages" since the formation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), followed by the creation of BRICS mechanism amid the global financial crisis.
"Chinese foreign policy is identified with the overall policies of Chinese President Xi Jinping. He is much more involved in deciding China's foreign policy than his predecessors because China has become a regional power and a global force," he said.
Tim Summers, a senior consulting fellow of the Asia Program at Chatham House, a leading British think-tank, said China's stress on its ties with Russia reflects the country's overall diplomacy.
"This emphasis on relations with Russia is part of an all-round diplomacy, balances China's relations with other major powers, and is important as Russia remains a major neighbor of China and an influence in China's wider regional neighborhood," Summers told Xinhua.
Experts also voiced concerns over the politicization of the Sochi Winter Olympics by the West.
"Russia is having unfair political spoiling treatment for the Sochi Games, and this will not help global sports," Perry warned, saying China would support politics-free Olympics as well as regional and global sports.