Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, met on Feb. 4 just ahead of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics. The two leaders presented a common front on the issue of Ukraine, which has become the focus of international attention because of a potential Russian invasion.
Bringing an international political confrontation, one that could descend into a military conflict, to a festival of peace is a grave act.
After the meeting, Xi and Putin issued a joint statement opposing the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and then walked together to the opening ceremony. The Ukrainian athletes must have felt uncomfortable as they paraded with Putin looking down upon them.
China also supported Russia’s proposals to the U.S. and others on European security. This is blatantly political use of the Olympics.
Russia has been sanctioned for state-sponsored doping violations, and Putin has been banned from attending major international competitions. He was able to visit the Beijing Games thanks to an exception arranged by Xi.
The Beijing Olympics have highlighted the division between authoritarian states ruled by strongmen and democracies — a fact that cannot be overlooked.
Along with Putin, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who suppressed anti-government protests with the help of the Russian military, also attended the opening ceremony in Beijing. Leaders from countries close to China and Russia stood out, while leaders from the Group of Seven major industrial nations, which place great value on human rights, were absent.
The day before the opening ceremony, India also announced a “diplomatic boycott.” The move was a protest against Beijing’s politically motivated decision to use as a torchbearer a Chinese soldier injured in the 2020 China-India border conflict.
Many global leaders, including then-U.S. President George W. Bush, attended the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The international environment has worsened considerably since then.
The Olympics have always been intertwined with politics, but the overt politicking this time is excessive. Nonetheless, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has readily cozied up to China’s position. It would be a perverse tragedy if the Olympics were to become a cause of global instability. The very nature of the Games may be called into question.
Regarding the situation in Ukraine, Putin met with French President Emmanuel Macron, and the Russian leader is expected to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Diplomatic efforts should be made to ease the situation, but any such moves should prioritize the sovereignty of Ukraine and the will of the Ukrainian people. All countries involved need to work calmly toward a solution.