The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as political tensions involving the United States, dominated headlines as the opening ceremony kicked off the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. It’s an historic one, as it makes Beijing the first city to host both a Summer and Winter Olympics. Beijing hosted the Summer Games in 2008.
“China has already made history by surpassing the goal of engaging 300-million Chinese people with sport on snow and ice,” International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said ahead of the opening ceremony. “Today we can say China is a winter sport country.”
While hosting the Winter Games is an historic accomplishment for Beijing and China as a whole, the Games are expected to be hampered by COVID-19. Just like with last summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games, Friday’s opening ceremony was held in front of a limited crowd. Many Beijing residents had to watch the ceremony from home.
“Even when the pandemic is so severe, we’re still able to hold this highly-anticipated event in the world, the Winter Olympics, we feel particularly proud,” Liu Wenbin, who had to watch the ceremony from home, said. “As a Chinese person, I feel incomparably proud.”
The limited number of people allowed to attend included journalists from around the world. One of those journalists expressed a different sentiment.
“We feel here like we are in jail. We can’t go out of the hotel, police is outside, a big fence is there,” Croatian reporter Viki Ivanovic said, describing the COVID-19 restrictions in place for journalists. “I can’t feel the Olympic spirit. Maybe when everything starts it will be different but I don’t know. It’s really, really weird.”
The Games were also overshadowed by the ongoing tensions between the U.S., China and Russia. Hours before the opening ceremony, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a public show of solidarity. In a joint statement, the two declared their opposition to any expansion of NATO and affirmed Taiwan as a part of China.
“I think the joint statement is a reflection of the close partnership between China and Russia,” Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun said Friday. “We are faced with so many challenges in today’s world, and the cooperation between big countries, including China and Russia, is extremely important to addressing all the challenges.” The White House, which supports NATO’s ability to expand and recognized Taiwan as separate from China, fired back at the joint statement Friday.
“A destabilizing conflict in Europe would impact China’s interests all over the world and certainly China should know that,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at her daily press briefing. “Our focus right now is continuing to unite with allies and partners to respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.” While the U.S. will be represented at the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games by the athletes, no diplomats will attend.