Putin and Xi unveil their alliance at the Olympics, mixing politics and sport

  • No tickets sold for Olympic events due to COVID
  • Xi and Putin proclaim ‘boundless’ friendship
  • Leaders publicly back their positions on Ukraine and Taiwan
  • Backdrop for a rivalry not seen since Cold War-era boycotts

BEIJING, Feb 4 (Reuters) – China has blended politics and sport with a boldness not seen since the Cold War on Friday, with President Xi Jinping announcing a new alliance with Russia’s Vladimir Putin just hours before presiding over a spectacular inauguration ceremony. opening of the Olympic Games.

Held at the famous Bird’s Nest Stadium before the crowds dissipated due to COVID-19, the opening ceremony easily cleared the high hurdle of China’s expected spectacle. Three thousand artists took their place on a stage made up of 11,600 square meters of high-definition LED screens.

Dancers streamed into the stadium waving bright green rods to mark the first day of spring on the Chinese calendar, followed by an explosion of white and green fireworks that spelled the word “Spring”.

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Lasers carved images from each of the previous 23 Winter Games. The block was then “broken” by ice hockey players, allowing the Olympic rings to emerge, clad all in white.

During the traditional “parade of nations”, the competitors from “Hong Kong, China” were cheered – as were those from the “Russian Olympic Committee” – the name used by the Russian delegation when the country is officially banned for doping.

Triumphant fireworks were launched into the night sky after Xi declared the games open. But perhaps the most consequential pyrotechnics came hours before the ceremony, when Xi and Putin unveiled their alliance, proclaiming friendship between their countries without “limits”.

It was a stark reminder that the games were taking place against a backdrop of geopolitical rivalry not seen since the Cold War boycotts of the 1980s, when the United States refused to attend the Olympics in Moscow and the Soviet Union is stayed away from Los Angeles.

As tensions on both sides of the Eurasian landmass were the highest in decades, Putin and Xi publicly clashed over a range of grievances, including Ukraine, where the West accuses Putin of preparing for war .

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As in Japan just six months ago, the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed severe constraints. As China still sticks to a “zero Covid” policy despite the rapid spread of the Omicron variant across the world, organizers decided last month not to sell tickets for Olympic events. A “closed loop” separates competitors and other personnel from the Chinese public.

But talk of war in Europe and growing rivalry in Asia meant COVID wasn’t the sport’s biggest distraction. The United States and other countries have refused to send dignitaries to Beijing, citing alleged human rights abuses, which Beijing denies.

China’s role in world sport has also come under the spotlight in recent months in the case of tennis player Peng Shuai. The women’s tennis tour has canceled events in China, saying it fears for its safety after it appeared to accuse a senior official of sexual assault. Chinese media have shown Peng making public appearances, including a video call last year with International Olympic Committee boss Thomas Bach. Read more

Due to the pandemic, visiting dignitaries for the Olympics were the first to make official trips to Beijing in more than two years. The guest of honor was clearly Putin. Read more

The Russian leader – who staged his own Winter Olympics in 2014 just days before sending troops to take over Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula – thanked Xi for inviting him, adding: “We know firsthand that it’s a huge job”.

In a joint Russian-Chinese statement, Beijing backed Russia’s long-standing call for NATO to halt its expansion – Moscow’s central demand in a dispute with Western countries who say they believe Putin is preparing for war in Ukraine.

Russia, which has deployed more than 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, denies plans to invade but says it could take unspecified military action unless demands are met, including banning the Ukraine to join NATO.

Moscow, for its part, said it fully supports Beijing’s position on Taiwan and opposes Taiwan independence in any form. L8N2UF2RX

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Reporting by Yew Lun Tian, ​​Chen Aizhu in Singapore and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing, Vladimir Soldatkin and Oksana Kobzeva in Moscow Writing by Peter Graff

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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