BEIJING – China’s leader, Xi Jinping, opened the Olympics on Friday to celebrate his country’s increasingly assured global status while challenging his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, in an increasingly stiff ideological competition with the United States and its allies.
While President Biden and other Democratic leaders shun the opening ceremony In the face of China’s human rights abuses, Mr. Xi has attracted a host of supportive guests of his own. Mr. Putin, another leader strongly opposed to the US demand, appeared with him earlier in a calculated display of solidarity while Moscow’s tensions with Ukraine could lead to war. .
The meeting with Mr. Putin, with its opening ceremony, was a staged display of China’s changing position in the world – wanting to win over nations wary of its growing power. but growing impatient and contemptuous of Western criticism.
It also emphasizes the determination of China and Russia in presenting a united front against the West, in general, and the United States in particular – precisely the outcome that President Richard M. Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry A. Kissinger, are trying to avoid with opened to China in 1971.
In a joint statement after the two leaders met, they said their friendship “has no bounds” and that China sided with Russia on one of its key security demands: an end to NATO’s expansion to the east and near Russia’s borders.
The two leaders called on the US to abandon the deployment plan Mid-range missiles in Europe and Asia and denounced what they saw as American interference in their internal affairs by promoting “color revolutions” calling for greater democracy.
“Russia and China resist attempts by external forces to undermine security and stability in their common neighborhoods,” they said in a 5,300-word statement, illustrating the rift growing between democracies and autocracies.
In a message directed at the United States, the two leaders vowed to “resist the interference of external forces in the internal affairs of sovereign states under any pretext, oppose color revolutions and will strengthen cooperation in the aforementioned areas”.
The statement made no mention of mutual support in Russia’s tensions over Ukraine and China over Taiwan, suggesting the limits of the burgeoning partnership.
Understanding Russia’s relationship with the West
Tensions between regions are growing and Russian President Putin is increasingly willing to take on geopolitical risks and assert his demands.
“This statement reflects the nature of the relationship with China,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “It’s deepened, more and more directed at America, but it’s not an alliance where both sides support each other on everything.”
After difficult geopolitical talks with Putin, Xi presided over the grand opening of the Winter Olympics at the “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium. The ceremony lasted more than two hours on a clear, cold night, filled with images of China as a friendly, open host country, despite the imposition of the strictest health restrictions ever. far in a major sporting event.
The night began with a captivating performance by onlookers carefully watched in the face of Covid – a distant cry from the frenzied crowds that filled the stadium for the epic four-hour Summer Olympics ceremony There in 2008. The highlight for many of those times was the arrival of the tight-knit 2,008 drummers and chanting Confucius: “Friends from afar have arrived, and how happy we are.”
This time, thousands of performers danced and twirled to China’s version of square dance, a boisterous dance popular among middle-aged people who congregate in parks across China. Zhang Yimou, director of the 2008 opening and closing ceremonies, said that this time he wanted to highlight China’s “ordinary people”.
The President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, used his speech at the opening ceremony to make a call to keep politics out of international sports, a position that has received criticism. increasingly cited by detractors of the commission and of China.
Politics, in fact, has been an important element of these Games from the very beginning.
Mr. Xi took the opportunity to present China as an anchor of stability in a world full of crisis. He has suggested that being able to hold the Olympics on schedule, in the face of Covid, is proof enough of China’s credibility.
Nearly 14 years after the 2008 Olympics, a very different China – richer, more powerful, but also far scarier – has put on a program designed to reassure, as well as dazzle, a global audience. bridge. China’s message is not as anxious as it once was to prove that it has arrived.
“China is no longer seeking to join the international community. It’s a senior fellow,” says Rana Mitter, professor of Chinese history and politics at the University of Oxford, of the contrast between 2008 and today.
“There is also a much stronger message that says, ‘We no longer have beggars trying to get into the room. We are defining the rules about what goes on in the room,’ he said.
Xi and other Chinese leaders have portrayed the Olympics as a celebration of sports, accusing the United States of politicizing the event by leading a “diplomatic boycott” of the leaders. Western leaders and high-ranking officials.
Mr. Putin reiterated this allegation in remarks before his visit. Chinese state media even claimed, without evidence, that the United States was plotting to disrupt the festival with protests orchestrated by athletes or other participants.
During Friday’s meeting – the 38th between the two as leaders – Mr Putin told his counterpart that China-Russia relations had “taken a truly unprecedented character”.
“It’s an example of a good relationship that helps each of us grow while supporting each other’s development,” Putin said at the start of the talks, also covering trade and security issues. security.
Even so, the limits of China’s support for Russia have been shown. The leaders’ statement did not specifically mention Ukraine, where China has its own economic and geopolitical interests.
Mr. Putin was among 22 world leaders who attended the opening ceremony, a meeting that softened somewhat the “diplomatic boycott” that Biden and other democratic leaders have announced.
Among the attendees were leaders of five Central Asian countries that were once part of the Soviet Union, as well as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Although not all, most are autocratic states, emphasizing the growing division in the world based less on political ideology than on governance practices and tolerance for with basic political freedoms.
China’s record of human rights abuses makes its choice to host the Olympics even more controversial than Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics. first chance to host both summer and winter versions of the premier sporting event at 2015 – only after Norway, Sweden and other European nations dropped out, citing cost or lack of public support for hosting the Olympics.
Mr. Xi’s widespread crackdown on dissent, the crushing of the democratic opposition in Hong Kong, and the detention of hundreds of thousands of members of the Uighur minority in the Xinjiang region have prompted calls to Call for boycott of sponsoring countries and businesses.
However, China’s economy is now more than three times larger than it was in 2008, meaning corporations and even countries don’t dare risk losing market access.
Mr. Xi, who served as vice-president in 2008, since coming to power in 2012, has presided over a dramatic restoration of Communist Party power that he clearly hopes the Olympics will take effect.
“If you look back at that time, back in 2008, they were still willing to show the world that they spoke the same language, that they were part of an idea,” helped Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Bird’s Nest stadium design, said in an interview from Portugal. He left China in 2015 after his outspoken criticism of the government. The open, airy design of the stadium stands in stark contrast to China’s direction, he said.
“But now,” he said, “the Chinese Communist Party is in a very different position. The whole tone has changed. ”
Holding the games could help Mr. Xi shine ahead of the Communist Party congress later this year, which will be crucial to prolonging his ruling era. Mr. Xi looked increasingly certain to win another five-year term as party leader at that congress, cementing his status as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. and Deng Xiaoping.
“In essence, this is the celebration of a decade of Xi Jinping’s rule. It’s a tribute to his authority,” said Geremie R. Barmé, a fellow at the Asian Association’s Center for US-China Relations, of the opening ceremony of the Games. “It’s like a National Day celebration, but done under the guise of an international event.”
During the ceremony, thousands of athletes representing 90 countries and regions marched around the stadium. Hitherto, No one has publicly criticized Chinese government, something officials have warned could be punishable.
“If any athlete, upon leaving China and returning home, chooses to say anything about China, that could bring the story back to tension,” said. Heather Dichteran associate professor of sports history at De Montfort University in the UK.
“But,” she added, “it is likely that during the two weeks of the Olympics the focus will be on the athletes and the many challenges they have to overcome.”
Anton Troianovski contributed reporting from Moscow, and David E. Sanger from Washington.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/04/world/asia/olympics-beijing-xi-putin.html In Beijing, Olympic Spectacle and Global Power Games