By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) - China is confident that Russia will be able to guarantee security at next month's Winter Olympics in Sochi, officials said on Tuesday.
To ease fears over possible breaches of security, President Vladimir Putin has ordered safety measures beefed up nationwide after 34 people were killed last month in bombings in Volgograd, another city in southern Russia.
While about 37,000 Russian personnel are providing security in the Sochi area, the United States in particular has expressed concern about the security situation.
China, though, is completely confident, Deputy Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping told reporters in Beijing.
"China has complete faith that Russia has the ability to ensure the security of the Sochi Winter Olympics. I believe these games will be successful with this tight security," Cheng said.
"China has been in close touch and has coordinated with Russia about this."
Chinese President Xi Jinping is attending the opening ceremony of the February 7-23 Winter Olympics in a show of support for Putin, who has staked his political prestige on the success of the Games.
Xi's decision to attend is a positive development for Putin, after U.S. President Barack Obama and his German counterpart Joachim Gauck both said they would not travel to Russia for the Games.
China is not a traditional winter sports powerhouse, winning only five gold medals at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, and deputy sports minister Yang Shu'an said China was only a "middle" country in this field.
China has won a total of nine gold medals at winter Games, compared with 201 at the summer Olympics.
"Of the 98 competitions at Sochi, about one-third of them we don't yet do in China. There is a problem of imbalance and a lack of popularity for winter sports in China," Yang added.
China's four-time Olympic short-track speedskating champion Wang Meng is likely to miss the Games after fracturing her ankle and Yang said that while the team did not have a gold medal haul target they would do their best to bring back medals.
"We don't have a figure for the number of medals we want to win. We just want to encourage our athletes to work hard and go all out to get them," he added.
"Doubtless, with Wang Meng injuring herself there will be a certain effect on our success."
Russia's human rights record has also come under close scrutiny with Finland's Sports Minister Paavo Arhinmaki boycotting the opening ceremony over the country's "limitations in the freedom of speech or repressing of sexual minorities".
Yang said China was very strict on adhering to the principles of the Olympic charter that politics had no place in the competition.
"What is important for us at the Sochi Games is to properly manage and organize our own athletes," Yang said. "We won't get involved in other things."
The Sochi Games are the 22nd Winter Olympics and will run from February 7-23.
The Chinese cities of Beijing and Zhangjiakou are jointly bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics, though China has so far given few details and doubts have been cast by northern China's persistent smog crisis.
Yang said China was serious about the bid, and about cleaning up the air.
"The whole Chinese government is dedicated to cleaning up the environment, and that's not just for the Winter Olympics bid," he added.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
- Sports & Recreation
- President Vladimir Putin
- Winter Olympics