Chinese premier Xi Jinping has awarded his country’s Friendship Award to Vladimir Putin, calling the Russian president his “best, most intimate friend”.
Putin took a detour en route to a security summit in the Chinese port city Qingdao in order to accept the medal – China’s “highest state honour” awarded to foreigners – at a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, reports Singapore-based newspaper The Strait Times. The two leaders then attended an ice hockey between the youth teams of Russia and China.
The medal is the latest in a series of public gestures of admiration between the pair. On Xi’s last visit to Moscow, in July 2017, Putin made him a member of the Order of St Andrew, Russia’s highest chivalric order.
Presenting the Russian president with the Friendship Award, Xi first paid tribute to Putin as a “good and old friend of the Chinese people”.
Putin’s remarks, however, were notably less effusive. “I see this as an acknowledgement and an evaluation of Russia’s efforts to develop a comprehensive strategic partnership with China,” he said, making only passing mention of “our personal friendship”.
He was more more forthcoming about his friendship with Xi during an interview with Chinese state broadcaster CGTN earlier this week.
Asked for his impression of the Chinese leader for life, Putin said Xi was “approachable and sincere”, as well as “perhaps the only state leader who has celebrated my birthday with me”.
“We just had some vodka together and carved some sausage,” he recalled, adding: “I have never had such a relationship or arrangement with any other foreign colleague”.
Maria Repnikova, assistant professor of global communication at Georgia State University, told CNN that there is an element of political play-acting to their public displays of mutual admiration.
“Both countries really use their relationship to showcase [that] there is an alternative to the American hegemony, and they’ve been doing that for a while even before Trump,” she said.
“This closeness is aimed towards a global audience, not just Russian or Chinese viewers.”