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Winter Olympics: China heading for isolation

Communist Party of China and President Xi’s track record of human rights violations and unabated expansionism have riled the world

Amritpal Kaur / New Delhi

Winter Olympics and Paralympics this year being held in China beginning next week were to be showcased as President Xi Jingping’s acumen and dexterity with which he engaged the world.

If reports were anything to go by, it’s not working for President Xi Jingping and his Communist Party of China that’s burning midnight oil to prevent the country’s total isolation in the international community.


First came the political and diplomatic boycott of Chinese winter Olympics by the world powers to send out a strong message against well documented human rights violations of Uighur muslim minorities.

Though most countries may still send in their sporting contingents, their officials will skip to protest against abuse and genocide unleashed against Uighurs.

Going back to its origin in 1896, Olympics have been touted as the bridge to mitigate differences among countries and forging a bond of friendship.

On the contrary, Winter Olympics 2022 being held at Beijing have walked into a grave shadow of all round acrimony due to China’s arbitrary actions with a number of Southeast Asian neighbours’ boycotting the games.

Looming threat of Omicron variant of COVID-19 and massive internet crackdown by the powerful regulator in China has also not gone well with sporting nations.

Since the last decade, Chinese growth story has translated into its assertiveness and obsession for blanket security theology. Its resurgence has made China more vocal treading on the verge of covert violence.

One dimension of such an upturn has been China’s territorial disputes with its neighbours like USSR and Myanmar but with varying outcomes that range between amicable solution and outright arm twisting. However, amicable solutions have been scarce and far in between.  In fact, the last amicable resolution of border dispute that China achieved was in 2011 with Tajikistan.

On the contrary, the past decade shows a marked change in the Chinese modus operandi in dealing with such disputes. Since 2009 Beijing has been claiming unilaterally South China Sea its territorial waters by pushing forward Nine-dash Line which demarcates the whole of the water body as its territory.

South China Sea has been a central to territorial dispute between China and its South East Asian neighbours. And, this got accentuated beginning 2013 when China started developing Spratley Island and Paracel Island region. The Chinese state has been claiming ownership of most uninhabited islands in South China Sea Zone at a fast pace. These Islands include Cuarton Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef, Hughes Reef, Johnson South Reef, Mischief Reef, Subi Reef.


Though Vietnam had been reclaiming some islands, what set the alarm bells ringing was the urgency with which Chinese started to develop these shoals. During 2014-16, China reclaimed more islands and territories than all other nations combined in the region’s history.

Graver aspect of this Chinese belligerence is militarizing these islands. South China Sea is a narrow body which is also strategic as an important marine route that accounts for substantial world trade at over $ 3 trillion annually.

Chinese attempt to capture scattered islands and fortifying them as its military zones has unnerved several of its friends and foes alike. Discreet reclamation of territories led to coining of term, ‘Salami Slicing’, that denotes Chinese attempt to expand its territory, one shoal at a time.

Chinese expansionism has been in full display in its tussle with its India. Though settlement of Himalayan border issue has been an elusive phenomenon, over a period India and China had developed a mechanism to keep bilateral relations cordial while taking a piecemeal approach to disputed territory. Passage of Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement (1993) during the Narasimha Rao era is a case in point.

Subsequently, technical agreements to manage the border issues were adopted after tough negotiations in 1996, 2005, 2012 and 2013. However, recent skirmishes in the high Himalayas including Galwan crisis, Pangong Tso tussle, Depsang Plain offensive in 2020 is a worrying signal.

According to experts, China is engaged in salami slicing of Himalayan border by taking one post at a time. It has also been speculated that China is keeping the Himalayan fault lines simmering to hem India and gain simultaneous advantage in the Indian Ocean as an emerging blue water navy. This expansionist posture, mastering the seas around and major sea lanes of communication, it’s a crucial move in the strategic chess that China continues to play.

Chinese arm twisting and expansionism is visible in the recently enacted Land Border Act (2021). On the face of it, the act charts the course that China is to adopt in the border determining process. It states that territorial sovereignty is inviolable and China would ‘resolutely defend territorial sovereignty and land border security.’ But, the trouble with this assertion is that only India and Bhutan do not have a settled border with China.

Further, China’s ‘official map’ unilaterally claims entire Arunachal Pradesh, Barahoti plains of Uttarakhand and territory till 1959 claim line in the Ladakh region as its own land mass. The act of China declaring complete ownership of rivers running through its territory setting aside claims of lower riparian states had led to more disputes with neighbours.

As far as India is concerned, its recently adopted Land Border Act has no validity since it has no veracity or solid ground. China seems to be waging a psychological offensive against its neighbors, through posturing, unilaterally declaration of unacceptable claims on disputed territories as well as constantly shifting goal posts. 

Since the Sixth Plenary Session of Communist Party of China in November 2021, it has been obvious that President Xi would continue into his third term as Chinese President. He has already put himself in the list of great leaders of China next only to Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping with his thought enshrined in the Chinese Constitution.

Winter Olympics for him could have been a virtual crowing, a cherry on top of the China’s cake. Given his intransigence on a host of issues, countries like USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and European members have decided to sit tight citing human rights violations under Chinese control in Xinjiang and Tibet as well as sexual exploitation of sportspersons by high and mighty in the Party top brass.

Coupled with this, the expansionist posturing of China does not allow the long spell of winter thaw in Beijing to end any time soon.

(Author is a doctoral scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views expressed are author\’s own.)

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