Winter games on tenterhooks amid US boycott, Covid restrictions

Beijing, Feb 1 (EFE).- As China prepares to launch the Beijing Winter Olympics on Friday, the games have so far been mired by stringent Covid-19 restrictions and a diplomatic boycott headed by the United States.

Beijing is set to become the first city to host both the winter and summer games, which took place 14 years ago, but a lot has changed since then.

Since the Beijing 2008 Olympics, China has become the second-largest world economy and has developed a much more assertive foreign policy.

“China promised that if Beijing was chosen to host the 2008 Games, the human rights situation would improve. Not only did they fail to keep their promise, but things have gotten noticeably worse in recent years. Human rights violations have been perpetrated with greater frequency, scale and impunity,” Amnesty International (AI) researcher, Alkan Akad, told Efe.

The expert added that while in 2008 there was a certain openness and an intention to present China as a modern country, in the last 14 years repression of ethnic and religious minorities, activists, lawyers, journalists and dissidents has increased, as well as “greater censorship” and the developing of a “mass surveillance system”.

In 2008 the focus was on unrest in Tibet, now all eyes are on the alleged abuse of minorities in the Xinjiang region, in the northwest of the country, where some reports have unearthed allegations that around one million Uyghurs are locked up in re-education camps.

Beijing says the accusations are “the lie of the century” and that “provisional training centers” were created to improve the economy and society of the region.

The US, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom have all boycotted the games because of the alleged Xinjiang abuses, although the gesture will not really bear an impact on the games.

“In 2008 there was also a similar tension, but the spectacular nature of those Games made them a tremendous success for their image. I think that this time it will not happen,” researcher Mario Esteban from the Elcano Royal Institute told Efe.

“The pandemic has scarred the country, it has greatly increased mistrust and the perception of China. In addition, the Winter Games do not have the resonance of the Summer Games,” Esteban added.

China’s ‘zero Covid’ policy has also enhanced the nation’s isolation, the researcher said.

Strict preventive measures will loom throughout the games, and foreign athletes and staff will remain in a bubble barred from any contact with the local population during their stay in the capital.

William Nee, Research and Advocacy Coordinator at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, added “torture, forced confessions and disappearances” to the list of concerns and said that “there is no sign that China is going to change its behavior.”

“What’s more, the government will try to use the Games to show that it is respected worldwide,” Nee told Efe.

Zhao Weidong, Beijing Organising Committee spokesman told reporters on Tuesday that everything was ready for a “simple, safe and splendid” Olympics.

When officials have been prodded over the international boycott the response is blunt:

“Based on its ideological biases as well as lies and rumors, the US attempts to interfere with the Beijing Winter Olympics, which will only expose its malicious intention and lead to greater loss of moral authority and credibility,” Spokesman Zhao Lijian blasted during a December intervention.

“The US should stop politicizing sports, and stop disrupting and undermining the Beijing Winter Olympics, lest it should affect bilateral dialogue and cooperation in important areas and international and regional issues,” Zhao warned. EFE


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