China’s Xi Visits Winter Olympics Venues as Challenges Mount
(Bloomberg) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Beijing Winter Olympics venues a month before the games begin amid a worsening Covid-19 outbreak and diplomatic tensions with Western nations over human rights.
He toured the National Speed Skating Oval, athletes’ village, and operations and media centers Tuesday, according to state-run China Daily. Xi told event organizers that the Olympics would be considered a success if they were “green, safe and simple,” according to a video posted online by CCTV. He said in another clip he hoped the nation’s athletes achieved “good results.”
At a press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, Han Zirong, secretary general of the games’ organizing committee, declared that China is ready to host the event. “After more than six years of meticulous preparation, the Beijing Winter Olympics are ready,” she said.
The 68-year-old Xi and everyone else in photographs of his visit wore face masks, an unusual move for the Chinese leader who often appears in public without one -- a sign of heightened caution as the country grapples with its gravest outbreak since the pandemic started. One video showed Xi without a mask when addressing a crowd at a distance.
China has pledged to host a “simple, safe and splendid” games from Feb. 4-20, in contrast to the spectacle of the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008. The attempt to lower expectations is largely due to China’s inability to eliminate Covid-19 from its borders despite strict quarantine rules for inbound travelers, and a policy of mass tracing, testing and lockdowns to stem flareups.
Xi’an, a central city of 13 million people, is dealing with shortages of food and medical care as its lockdown nears two weeks. The health code system that strictly governs people’s movements has crashed, prompting the suspension of Liu Jun, head of the local big-data bureau, according to a local Communist Party body.
Yuzhou, with a population of some 1.2 million in the central province of Henan, went into lockdown on Monday, the Global Times reported. Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, said it shut off some neighborhoods on Tuesday.
The Winter games are also the target of a diplomatic boycott led by the U.S. The Biden administration announced the move in December, citing “crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, and other human rights abuses.” Australia, Canada and the U.K. announced similar measures, and Japan said it won’t send any government representatives, though it avoided the words “diplomatic boycott.”
Beijing has vociferously denied the genocide accusation leveled at its handling of the far western region of Xinjiang, which has a large Muslim Uyghur population. China insists it is providing job training and educational opportunities while quelling terrorism.
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