The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on Friday (4 February) will stage a gathering of leaders of non-democracies. From the EU, only the President of Poland Andrzej Duda will attend, while from the candidate countries the Serbian President Alexander Vučić will be present.
Friday’s start of the Beijing Winter Olympics will turn attention away from criticism over human rights, which China rejects, a spokesperson for the organising committee told Reuters on the eve of the opening ceremony.
Several countries including the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Games over China’s rights record, including its treatment of mostly Muslim Uyghurs in its Xinjiang region, which the United States deems genocide.
France, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, has tried to reach a common EU position concerning the participation of politicians at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, but ultimately each individual member country took its own decisions. Most EU countries are represented at the level of lower-level officials.
Both Vučić and Duda are expected to have meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Membership of the EU remains Serbia’s strategic goal, as two thirds of its trade exchange is with the EU. However, Serbia has become increasingly close to China in recent years.
“Poland is a sovereign nation and decides its own politics towards China. … Poland is an ally of the United States but Poland also has a very friendly relationship with China,” Duda’s foreign affairs advisor Jakub Kumoch told Reuters.
Officials have told Reuters that, as Poland’s relationship with the United States has worsened under President Joe Biden’s administration, it’s no longer in Poland’s interests to continue criticising China simply to please the Americans.
China appears to be satisfied with the foreign attendance at high political level. Commentators had said that a failure of the US to ensure a Western boycott turns into a victory for Beijing.
“The so-called China human rights issue is a lie made up by people with ulterior motives,” Zhao Weidong, spokesperson for the Beijing Games, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday when asked if such criticism had undermined the Games.
“I want to emphasise that the Olympics is a great spectacle for athletes and sports fans across the world. From the current situation, many countries and athletes have expressed their support for the Beijing Winter Olympics,” he said.
“The opening ceremony is tomorrow. I believe that at the instance in which the Olympic flame is lit, all of this so-called boycott banter will be extinguished,” he added.
The opening ceremony of the 4-20 February Olympics is taking place on Friday at the Bird’s Nest stadium, the same venue where Beijing’s 2008 Games began, making the Chinese capital the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Games.
The most important guest of the Olympics is Russian President Vladimir Putin, his visit marking a further rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing at a times when their relationships with the United States and its allies have sharply worsened.
Among other leaders who confirmed attendance are Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi of Egypt, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan, President Sadyr Zhaparov of Kyrgyzstan, President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov of Turkmenistan, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan, Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates.
The EU countries without political representatives are Lithuania, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Sweden, Estonia and Belgium.
Due to COVID-19, the Olympics are taking place in a “closed loop” segregating competitors and other personnel from the Chinese public, and spectators will be limited to smaller groups of selected attendees.