In Beijing, Olympic spectacle and global power games

President Xi Jinping of China appears on a screen during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Olympics in Beijing on Friday, February 4, 2022. (Photo: NYTimes)
BEIJING — China’s leader Xi Jinping opened an Olympic Games on Friday intended to celebrate his country’s increasingly assured global status while standing defiantly with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in an increasingly ideological contest with the United States and its allies.اضافة اعلان

While President Joe Biden and other democratic leaders shunned the opening ceremony over China’s human rights abuses, Xi drew his own bloc of supportive guests. Putin, another strongman bristling against U.S. demands, appeared with him earlier in a calculated display of solidarity as Moscow’s tensions with Ukraine could tip into war.

The meeting with Putin, with the opening ceremony, amounted to a choreographed display of China’s shifting place in the world — wanting to win over countries wary of its growing power, but increasingly impatient, and disdainful, of Western censure.

It also underscored China and Russia’s determination to present a united front against the West, broadly, and the United States in particular — exactly the result that President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, were trying to avoid with their opening to China in 1971.

In a joint statement after the two leaders met, they said their friendship had “no limits,” and China sided with Russia on one of its critical security demands: an end to NATO expansion to the east and closer to Russia’s borders.

The two leaders called for the United States to abandon plans to deploy intermediate range missiles in Europe and Asia and denounced what they see as U.S. interference in their internal affairs by fomenting “color revolutions” calling for greater democracy.

“Russia and China stand against attempts by external forces to undermine security and stability in their common adjacent regions,” they said in the 5,300-word statement, which illustrated the widening rift between democracies and autocracies.

In a message directly aimed at the United States, the two leaders vowed “to counter interference by outside forces in the internal affairs of sovereign countries under any pretext, oppose color revolutions and will increase cooperation in the aforementioned areas.”

The statement made no mention of mutual support in Russia’s tensions over Ukraine and China’s with Taiwan, signaling the limits of the growing partnership.

“This statement reflects the nature of the relationship with China,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “It’s increasingly deep, increasingly directed at the U.S., but it’s not an alliance where both sides support each other on everything.”

After the hard-nosed geopolitics of his talks with Putin, Xi presided over the Winter Games’ opening spectacular in the National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest. The ceremony, lasting more than two hours on a clear, frigid night, was filled with images of China as a friendly, open host, despite the imposition of the most stringent health restrictions ever in a major sporting event.

The night began with a display of folksy charm watched by spectators carefully screened against COVID-19 — a distant cry from the passionate crowd that filled the stadium for the grandiose, four-hour Summer Olympics ceremony there in 2008. The highlight for many that time was the appearance of 2,008 tightly coordinated drummers chanting Confucius: “Friends have come from afar, and how happy we are.”

This time, a thousand performers jumped and twisted to China’s version of square dancing, a boisterous dance style popular among middle-aged people who gather in parks across China. Zhang Yimou, the director of the opening ceremony, as well as the 2008 opening, has said that this time he wanted to highlight China’s “ordinary humanity.”

The president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, used his remarks at the opening ceremony to make a plea to keep politics out of international sports, a position that has drawn increasing criticism from detractors of the committee and of China.

Politics, in fact, have been an undercurrent of these Games from the beginning.

Xi has seized on the occasion to present China as an anchor of stability in a crisis-ridden world. Being able to hold the Games on schedule, in the face of the pandemic, is enough proof of China’s dependability, he has suggested.

Nearly 14 years after the 2008 Games, a very different China — much wealthier, more powerful, but also more feared — put on a show designed to reassure, as well as dazzle, its global audience. China, the message was, did not feel the same swaggering anxiety as it once did to prove that it had arrived.

“China is no longer seeking entry into the international community. It is an embedded senior member,” Rana Mitter, a professor of Chinese history and politics at Oxford University, said of the contrast between 2008 and today.

“There is also a much stronger message saying, ‘We’re no longer supplicants seeking to enter the room. We are defining the rules of what happens in the room’,” he said.

Xi and other Chinese leaders have portrayed the Games as a celebration of sport, accusing the United States of politicizing the event by leading a “diplomatic boycott” by Western leaders and senior officials.

Read More Sports