Sunday's celebration of China's grand $1 trillion Silk Road infrastructure plan, three years in the making (detailed earlier), had several somewhat bizarre subplots.
- First, just hours before the summit opened, North Korea launched its latest ballistic missile, provoking Beijing and further testing the patience of China, its chief (former) ally. Ironically, the United States had complained to China on Friday over the inclusion of a North Korean delegation at the event.
- Second, in a sign that China's rampant, credit-fuelled growth is making some just a tad uneasy, some Western diplomats expressed unease about both the summit and the plan as a whole, seeing it as an attempt to promote Chinese influence globally according to Reuters.
- Third, and the biggest surprise of the day, was India, the world's fastest growing nation and the second most populous in the world, which did not even bother to send an official delegation to Beijing and instead criticised China's global initiative, warning of an "unsustainable debt burden" for countries involved.
Meanwhile, in a more entertaining interlude, Russian President Vladimir Putin, also present in Beijing for the Silk Road event, decided to show off his softer side when he sat down to play piano on Sunday.
According to AP, after speaking at the summit in the morning, Putin headed to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at his residence. While waiting at a state guesthouse, Putin sat down at a grand piano and played two tunes: “Evening Song,” by Vasily Solovyov-Sedoi, and “Moscow Windows,” by Tikhon Khrennikov.
Putin is habitually late for meetings, but this time he was the one who was made to wait, Russian news agencies said. So, Putin played some songs on Xi's piano. Russian state television showed excerpts of at least two tunes he played — "Moscow Windows" and "City on the Free Neva" — both Soviet classics.
Putin has demonstrated his music talents before. In 2010, he took the stage at a charity concert with a jazz band to play and sing "Blueberry Hills."
It was a departure for the president who, as the NYT put it, "has ridden shirtless on a horse in Siberia, piloted a hand glider with migratory birds, swum with dolphins, tossed judo opponents, and dived into the depths of Lake Baikal and the Black Sea." More details from the NYT:
"Evening Song,” usually performed with lyrics by Aleksandr Churkin, was written in 1957 and is considered an unofficial anthem of St. Petersburg, Mr. Putin’s hometown, formerly known as Leningrad.
The other tune, “Moscow Windows,” usually performed with lyrics by the poet Mikhail Matusovsky, is a tune about friendship.
Both songs are from the late 1950s, when Putin was a child and the Soviet Union was emerging from the shadow of Stalin, who died in 1953.
While the performance seemed casual, "it was clearly not spontaneous — a cameraman was on hand, and video of the impromptu recital quickly circulated on the Russian state news media." Also, the piano could certainly do with some tuning.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, told journalists in Beijing that “while Mr. Putin was waiting for a bilateral meeting with Xi Jinping, the president studied some papers, prepared for the meeting and also played piano,” as quoted by Russia's Gazeta.ru.
However, Chinese propaganda chiefs were not amused that Xi had been upstaged to some extent at his own conference, and the official Chinese news media pointedly made little mention of the piano performance.