Asia leaders join Sochi, not put off by Russia’s human rights record

Asia leaders join Sochi, not put off by Russia’s human rights record

TOKYO — When top Western leaders decided to stay away from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Winter Olympics, he wasn’t exactly left friendless: he has the heads of leading Asian nations and others to help show the world that not everyone is put off by his human rights record and the anti-gay law he championed.

Alexei Nikolsky, RIA-Novosti  (Presidential Press Service)Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Alexei Nikolsky, RIA-Novosti (Presidential Press Service)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Koji Sasahara,   PAJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Koji Sasahara, PA
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Unlike President Barack Obama, who declined to attend the Sochi Olympics, the leaders of China and Japan — the world’s second and third largest economies — are attending. Both say they hope their visits will boost relations with Moscow.

In China and Japan, gay rights are not a hot-button political issue and officials say they do not link human rights with the Olympics.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, the highest-profile foreign head of state attending, congratulated Putin on the Olympics and hailed their countries’ growing ties, which frequently challenge Western domination of global affairs.

China’s state-controlled media have barely mentioned the Russian law that bans pro-gay “propaganda” that could be accessible to minors. It was signed by Putin in July.

That’s partly because of Beijing’s strict insistence on non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs, but also a reflection of relatively little public discourse on gay rights.

Japanese leader Shinzo Abe was also attending the opening ceremony and is to meet with Putin on Saturday.

“Japan pays close attention to the human right situation in Russia, but we do not link it with Prime Minister Abe’s attendance at the Sochi Olympics,” Japan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday.

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In Japan, awareness about minority rights — not just for gays, but also for migrant workers and ethnic Koreans — lags behind the West, said Sonoko Kawakami, campaign manager for Amnesty International Japan.

“The prime minister’s actions reflect that,” she said.

Skipping the event, in addition to Obama, are French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German President Joachim Gauck and Brazilian President Dilma Russeff.

Xi is the first Chinese head of state to attend the opening ceremony of an international sporting event outside of China.

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