Putin's trip to Beijing lends support to Olympics amid boycotts

Putin slammed the diplomatic boycott of the Games over Beijing's rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.
By Gao Feng, Yitong Wu and Chingman
2022.02.03
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Putin's trip to Beijing lends support to Olympics amid boycotts Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Dec. 15 15, 2021.
AFP

Russian president Vladimir Putin will visit China on the opening day of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 4, holding talks with ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping amid ongoing tensions over the build-up of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine.

The in-person meeting will be the first between the Russian and Chinese leaders since 2019, and will include discussions on how to play "an important stabilizing role," Putin wrote in a commentary carried by state news agency Xinhua on Thursday.

In the article, Putin hit out at a widespread diplomatic boycott of the Games, which comes amid an international outcry over Beijing's rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, as well as its escalating military threats against the democratic island of Taiwan.

"Our countries play an important stabilizing role in today's challenging international environment, promoting greater democracy in the system of international relations to make it more equitable and inclusive," Putin wrote.

"Sadly, attempts by a number of countries to politicize sports for their selfish interests have recently intensified," the article said. "This is fundamentally wrong and contrary to the very spirit and principles of the Olympic Charter."

India said Thursday it would join the U.S., Canada, Australia, Britain and other countries in a diplomatic boycott of the games after China included in the Olympic torch relay a soldier who was involved in a deadly 2020 border clash with Indian troops in the Himalayas, where the nuclear armed powers have territorial disputes.

“It is indeed regrettable that the Chinese side has chosen to politicize an event like the Olympics,” Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Arindam Bagchi told reporters on Thursday.

The Putin-Xi meeting will likely also coincide with the inking of more than 15 energy deals, mostly in the natural gas sector, where bilateral cooperation is booming, and could include plans for a natural gas pipeline to China through Mongolia, the Kremlin said on the eve of Putin's departure.

"Chinese demand for imported natural gas and oil is only going to increase," political commentator Joseph Cheng told RFA, saying Russia's natural gas exports could be adversely affected if it invades Ukraine.

"If Russia really sends troops to Ukraine in the near future, western European countries will probably sanction Russia, and one of the main targets for such sanctions would be the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which was funded by Germany to bring natural gas from Russia," Cheng said.

"That is likely to be affected, and if western European countries reduce their imports of oil and natural gas from Russia, then China will naturally become a much more important energy market for Russia," he said.

Sports-themed posters created by a human rights group to highlight human rights abuses in China on the eve of the Beijing Winter Games are seen near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Feb. 3, 2022. Credit: RFA
Sports-themed posters created by a human rights group to highlight human rights abuses in China on the eve of the Beijing Winter Games are seen near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Feb. 3, 2022. Credit: RFA
Brinkmanship

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the U.S. government has reportedly formulated a broad economic sanctions plan in response to the situation in Ukraine, including a ban on Russian banks and state-owned enterprises from doing business with U.S. banks and institutions; a ban on Russia’s new sovereign debt transactions and key imports, such as advanced microelectronics.

Cheng said the Kremlin's potential pivot to China would also boost the international status of both the ruble and the yuan.

Xia Ming, professor of political science at New York's City University, said Putin's trip is being made for highly strategic reasons, but that the pivot might not work as well as Moscow hoped.
 
"China is still very different from the West in many aspects, and won't be a replacement for the U.S. and Europe when it comes to meeting Russia's economic and financial needs," Xia told RFA.

"Putin is playing a game of brinkmanship right now, using China to meet those needs, while putting pressure on Europe and the U.S. in a multilateral strategic space."

Meanwhile, German journalist and rights activist David Missal hit out on Thursday at his country's government for a not-quite-boycott of the Winter Olympics by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who said he wouldn't be attending the event, but declined to give a reason.

"In the face of a human rights crisis in China, the German government is still reluctant to talk about an official diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics, which is very shameful," Missal told RFA.

"This shows that many people in the new government, in the Social Democrats, daren't publicly criticize the Chinese government," he said. "The main reason for that is the huge influence wielded by German companies ... which leads to some problems with the SDP's China policy."

Uyghurs and other opponents of  China hosting the Beijing Winter Olympic Games gather near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Feb. 3, 2022. Credit: RFA
Uyghurs and other opponents of China hosting the Beijing Winter Olympic Games gather near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Feb. 3, 2022. Credit: RFA
'Ruthless' China

In Washington, Uyghurs, Tibetans and people from Hong Kong staged a protest near Capitol Hill and an advisory panel to Congress held a hearing focused on repression in China.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) hearing that the U.S. has an "urgent moral duty to shine a bright light” on China’s human rights abuses in places like Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.

"If we do not speak out against human rights violations in China, because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out against human rights violations anywhere," she said.

But Pelosi warned athletes to focus on sports, rather than speak out while in Beijing.

"Do not risk incurring the anger of the Chinese government because they are ruthless,” Pelosi said.

In an interview with RFA Wednesday, CECC Chair Jeff Merkley, told athletes that if any of the rights issues in China "speaks to your heart"  they should voice concerns.

"If you're aware of the circumstances in China, you will do a great service to the world if you draw attention to them while you're at the games," he said.

Jewher Ilham, the daughter of Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti, who is serving a life sentence for "separatism" for his work to end discrimination against Uyghurs, told the hearing about the widespread impact of China's mass detention of Uyghurs in internment camps since 2017.

“We are talking about millions. Hundreds of thousands of families, they don’t know if their families are alive. I don’t know if my father is alive,” Ilham said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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