China's Xi appeared more relaxed than Putin in first Moscow meeting, experts say
(Reuters) - Body language experts say Chinese President Xi Jinping came across as more relaxed and commanding than his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at Monday's televised first meeting of Xi's state visit to Moscow.
Western countries are certain to pore over every detail of the talks between two of the world's most powerful but secretive leaders, as Putin seeks Xi's backing for the invasion of Ukraine and his help in filling the gaps in trade left by sweeping Western sanctions.
Karen Leong, Managing Director of Singapore-headquartered Influence Solutions, said Xi had pre-empted Putin by a split-second in reaching out for their set-piece handshake, suggesting that "even though he is the one visiting Moscow, he is the one who is going to be taking the lead in this relationship".
Louise Mahler, a body language and leadership behaviour expert based in Melbourne, Australia, took a similar view, noting that Xi had placed his hand on top of Putin's, something that could also indicate a measure of dominance in the exchange.
When they sat together for polite exchanges through translators, greeting each other as "dear friend", Mahler said Putin had slouched, twitched his leg, clenched his fist and looked at the floor, suggesting underlying agitation.
Xi, meanwhile, appeared "settled and confident".
Leong noticed the same tics in Putin, contrasting with an outwardly relaxed demeanour.
"If you juxtapose it with Xi, Xi is the composed statesman," she said. "He has a lot of gravitas, great eye contact, he is looking at Putin as an older brother looks ... (at a) more junior, younger partner."
Putin, 70, is in fact a few months older than Xi, and has been in power more than twice as long.
Leong said Xi had offered a sign that he too had been feeling some pressure, blinking unusually frequently during the sit-down.
Kim Hyung-hee, director of the Korea Body Language Lab, said the tight grip of the handshake and the occasions where the men tried to avoid eye contact showed that there was plenty at stake for both.
"They have high expectations about the meeting. You can see tension there - and you know there’s no real friends in politics."
(Reporting by John Geddie in Tokyo, Phyllis Xu and Joseph Campbell in Singapore and Ju-min Park in Seoul; Editing by Kevin Liffey)