Torch relay decision paints China as aggressor

Media reports say China deliberately minimized losses in Galwan clash on the Line of Control

China’s decision to insult India at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games has sparked anger in international circles – and attempts by the International Olympic Committee officials to downplay the incident.

According to media reports, China chose a PLA soldier involved in the Galwan clash along the controversial Line of Control (LAC) with the Indian border as an Olympics torchbearer.

Qi Fabao, the regimental commander who reportedly suffered a head injury during a skirmish on June 15, 2020, took the flame from China’s four-time Olympic short track speed skating champion Mang Weng, at Winter Olympic Park, Global Times reported.

This came as a report that revealed that China deliberately hid losses in the clash. New research suggests that the PLA lost at least nine times more soldiers than its official count of four, ANI News reported.

Soldiers reportedly fought in hand-to-hand combat in Galwan Valley using knives and spiked clubs.

Since recovering from a coma, Qi has been featured by China Central Television, the state broadcaster, was photographed in his fatigues in December and gave interviews declaring he was “ready to return to the battlefield,” the Washington Post reported.

Military posturing

Meanwhile, the reaction in condemning the military posturing has been swift in the US and India.

“It’s shameful that Beijing chose a torchbearer for the 2022 Olympics, who is part of the military command that attacked India in 2020, and, is implementing genocide against the Uighurs,” said Republican lawmaker James E Risch, ranking member of the US Foreign Relations Committee.

Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Arindam Bagchi, was also severe.

“It is indeed regrettable that the Chinese side has chosen to politicize an event like the Olympics,” he said.

According to CNN, India announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics on the heels of the torch relay decision.

Controversy swirled amid the glitz of the opening Olympics’ ceremony. Photo: Wikimedia

The last-minute boycott, which will see India’s top envoy in Beijing sit out the Opening Ceremony, adds the world’s most populous democracy to a list of Western nations who already have launched their own diplomatic no-shows, citing China’s dismal human rights record.

The US, along with several countries including Australia, Britain and Canada, announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics, citing China’s human rights violations, while allowing their athletes to compete.

Thomas Bach, the IOC’s milk-toast president, responded to the controversy by noting that an injured British veteran who had fought in Afghanistan was allowed to carry the torch at the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, The New York Times reported.

American television network NBC, however, appears to be walking a tightrope at one of the most controversial Games held.

The network is covering sports on ice and snow – and news on human rights and genocide, USA Today reported.

Media reports

To its credit, the network – which is paying $7.75 billion for the Olympics until the 2032 Games – aired a taped package that included mention of the country’s policies and accusations of human rights abuses against Uighurs, as well as a graphic showing Secretary of State Anthony Blinken criticizing the country, the UK’s Daily Mail reported. 

Who lit the flame at the Beijing Opening Ceremony?

According to media reports, it was Zhao Jiawen of men’s Nordic combined, and Dinigeer Yilamujiang of women’s cross-country skiing.

She is Uighur, according to Chinese state media.

The Uighurs are China’s Muslim ethnic minority who are victims of genocide, according to the US and just about every human rights group on the planet.

Uighur detainees in a Xinjiang internment camp in 2017. Photo: Wikimedia

“The selection of a Uighur torchbearer is a deliberate attempt to whitewash genocide, adding insult to injury for millions,” said Rayhan Asat, a Uighur human rights advocate and Yale World Fellow.

“But it also shows that China cares enough about international criticism to try to defend itself with this choice. Today might not be 1936, and China might not be Nazi Germany, but we are witnessing a repetition of history, unlike anything we’ve seen before.”

The other theory is that China is just scared. Just plain scared.

When you’re caught in a lie, and that is a big lie, the tendency is to double down. And this is exactly that, say some international experts.

“Over the last few years, the Chinese government has run an intensive propaganda campaign to convince the world that Uighurs are treated well inside the country,” said Sean Roberts, director of the International Development Studies program at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

Show of solidarity

“The use of a Uighur to light the flame is an overt part of this campaign while also serving as a way to snub its nose at the countries that have criticized the crimes against humanity that the People’s Republic of China has been committing against Uighurs since 2017,” he added.

As for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is one of the few high-level political types brave enough to attend the event in a show of solidarity, The Independent is reporting he fell asleep during the Opening Ceremonies.

He was caught on camera napping during the parade of nations and awkwardly seemed to be dozing when athletes from Ukraine marched into Beijing’s National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest.

Putin was, however, wide awake by the time the Russian Olympic Committee arrived and he stood and gestured to the Russian athletes as they marched around the stadium.