China Will Hold a ‘Safe, Simple, Splendid’ Olympics, Xi Vows
(Bloomberg) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to hold a successful Winter Olympics next year in Beijing, responding to challenges the event faces from the coronavirus pandemic and international criticism over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
“With the active support and participation of all parties, we’re confident about overcoming the impact of the pandemic and hosting a simple, safe and splendid Olympics,” Xi told a gathering of ambassadors in Beijing that was covered by state television Wednesday evening.
The Beijing Winter Olympics set for February will be a test for Xi to see if he can calm tensions with global powers that have raised the possibility of boycotts. His government will also need to provide assurances about Covid-19 protection measures after the U.S. and others criticized a World Health Organization report in March on the origins of the coronavirus, calling it incomplete and faulting data and access provided to its authors by China.
Despite insistence from International Olympic Committee officials that sports and politics are separate, the Olympics have been enmeshed in complicated developments in world affairs and controversies for decades. One of the most pressing diplomatic matters for the Beijing Winter Olympics has been the alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
The United Nations says up to 1 million Muslim Uyghurs have been put in internment camps and compelled to work, and Washington has labeled China’s activities in the region genocide. China denies the charges, saying it is combating terrorism and providing economic opportunities to an impoverished people.
Beijing responded to the sanctions imposed by the U.S., U.K. and European Union over accusations of human rights abuses with measures of its own.
Adrian Zenz, who wrote a report in December last year saying hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority laborers in Xinjiang were “being forced to pick cotton by hand,” said he supported a boycott of the Games.
“What’s going on is a huge state-sponsored system of forced labor and the U.S. government has designated this as genocide,” Zenz told Bloomberg TV. “We have to speak out. We have to take action.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian repeated Beijing’s view that Zenz is lying during a regular briefing Thursday in the capital. The efforts by the U.S. to destabilize China with accusations about Xinjiang will fail, Zhao said.
Foreign diplomats in China have been debating whether to boycott the Olympics and discussed the possibility that top dignitaries stay away, while athletes compete and sponsors participate. Given the importance of China to the global economy and the sensitivity Beijing has toward hosting the global sports spectacle, most doubted there would be an outright boycott.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki earlier this month dismissed the idea that the U.S. was discussing any joint boycott with allies, walking back comments from the State Department that suggested such a move could be in the cards.
Zhao later said a boycott would harm the interests of athletes and “runs counter to the spirit of the Olympic charter.”
The Beijing Winter Olympics start about six months after Tokyo hosts the virus-delayed Summer Games, where measures including a ban on overseas spectators have been put in place to prevent it from becoming a superspreader event.
Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, said canceling the Tokyo Olympics was an option as Japan struggles with a surge in virus cases.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.