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China's Olympics Kick Off with Pomp, Circumstance, Lockdowns and Boycotts

Dancers perform during the pre-show ahead of the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Feb. 4, 2022, in Beijing.
Dancers perform during the pre-show ahead of the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Feb. 4, 2022, in Beijing.

China officially launched the 2022 Winter Olympic Games with the opening ceremony Friday at Beijing’s iconic National Stadium, also known as The Bird’s Nest, the site of the ceremonies for the 2008 Summer Games.

Friday’s opening ceremony was led by President Xi Jinping, who announced the official opening of the Games, along with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. They were joined by other world leaders—most notably Russian President Vladimir Putin. He and Xi met earlier in the day amid the standoff along Russia’s border with Ukraine. Xi also was joined by World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The coronavirus outbreak emerged in China more than two years ago, and Beijing’s locked-down Winter Games are aimed at showcasing its power under a global spotlight, despite the U.S. and several other governments mounting a diplomatic boycott because of the way China treats millions of its own people

Dipomats from the United States, Britain and Canada are boycotting the Games to protest what they say is the genocide of some 1 million Muslim Uyghurs in China's far western Xinjiang province. Beijing officials have rejected the allegations of human rights abuses.

India is the latest to join the diplomatic boycott. New Delhi’s announcement came after China included in an Olympic torch relay ahead of the opening a soldier who was involved in a deadly 2020 border clash with Indian troops. The participation of the soldier, Qi Fabao, was reported by the Chinese media.

German slider Natalie Geisenberger said she had considered boycotting but decided against it. “We athletes have absolutely nothing to do with the decision to award the Olympic Games to Beijing — the (IOC) decides and we athletes are presented with a fait accompli,” she said.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling on American athletes not to risk angering Beijing by speaking out for human rights. In an interview with VOA late Thursday, Pelosi said that "the Chinese government is ruthless" and "has no goodwill at all," noting the Chinese government itself does not abide by the Olympic spirit.

"Matters have gotten worse in China. The Olympics shouldn't be held there, but we can't hold that against the athletes,” said Pelosi. “They have to go. They have to compete. They have to be excellent. But they have to be careful, because the Chinese government — when they say you have to honor the Olympic spirit, it‘s ridiculous because the Chinese government does not honor the Olympic spirit.”

"The [Chinese] government are cowards. They're afraid of people. They're afraid of their children, their families. Yes, they're cowards. They're afraid of the truth,” Pelosi said.

The Olympic Stadium is lit prior to the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Feb. 4, 2022, in Beijing.
The Olympic Stadium is lit prior to the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Feb. 4, 2022, in Beijing.

COVID-19 and security restrictions

This year’s Games come amid a number of COVID-19-related restrictions imposed on the nearly 3,000 athletes, and the public. Tickets were not sold to the general public because of health concerns. Even though some spectators will be present at the ceremonies, the number of attendees is unclear.

Unlike all other Olympic Games, athletes this time will not have the opportunity to explore China outside the Olympic Village gates. They and the thousands of Olympic Village support personnel, press and volunteers have been restricted to designated venues, cutting them off from the rest of China during the competition.

Officials say at least 290 COVID cases already have emerged in the “bubble.”

Meanwhile, some countries have advised their athletes to not bring their cell phones and laptops to China because of cybersecurity concerns. The FBI said earlier this week that China’s hacking operations are “more brazen'' than ever before.

The staging of the Olympics in China coincides with worldwide concerns about the safety of China’s star tennis player Peng Shuai after she said a high-ranking Chinese government official had sexually assaulted her.

The International Olympic Committee, however, said they have met with her and will meet with her during the Games.

VOA’s Mandarin service contributed to this story, and information from The Associated Press was also used in this report.