by Suhasini Haidar
Chinese media reports identified Qi Fabao (second from left), a PLA regiment commander who received military honours for the Galwan clashes, as one of about 1,200 runners bearing the torch at a relay in Beijing. File | Photo Credit: AP
China's decision to field PLA Galwan commander as Olympic torchbearer angers New delhi; no diplomat will represent India at opening and closing ceremonies; DD cancels live telecast of ceremonies
Terming China’s decision to field a People’s Liberation Army soldier involved in the June 2020 Galwan clashes as the torchbearer for the Winter Olympics Games in Beijing as “regrettable”, India announced a diplomatic boycott of the games just ahead of the opening ceremony on Friday. State broadcaster Doordarshan also announced it will not telecast the opening and closing ceremonies live, where India has one athlete, skier Arif Khan, participating.
The decision came after Chinese media reports identified Qi Fabao, a PLA regiment commander who received military honours for the Galwan clashes, where he was injured, as one of about 1,200 runners bearing the torch at a relay in Beijing.
China’s decision to field him and New Delhi’s announcement of its first ever political boycott of Olympic games, are likely to increase India-China tensions that have risen since PLA aggressions along the Line of Actual Control began in April 2020.
India had earlier expressed support for the Beijing Olympics, even as more than a dozen countries, led by the United States, had announced a boycott of the games.
“It is indeed regrettable that the Chinese side has chosen to politicise an event like Olympic,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, referring to the media reports. “The Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of India in Beijing will not be attending the opening or closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics,” he added.
The Indian Ambassador to China, Pradeep Kumar Rawat, whose appointment was announced in December, is expected to take charge in the next few weeks, and hence the Charge d’Affaires Acquino Vimal is the top diplomat in Beijing at present. Mr. Vimal and other officials had been expected to attend the ceremonial functions at the games, although the MEA had said no political or high level representation would be sent from Delhi.
Prasar Bharti chief Shashi Shekhar Vempati also tweeted that “consequent to the announcement by the MEA”, Doordarshan’s sports channel would not telecast the Olympic ceremonies, as planned earlier.
The Chinese decision to publicly honour the military commander for involvement in the deadly clashes in the Galwan valley, where 20 Indian soldiers, and at least four Chinese soldiers (far higher according to media reports) were killed, is seen as a deliberate insult to New Delhi, which came despite the fact that the Modi government had decided not to join western boycott calls over human rights concerns.
In November 2021, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had hosted a virtual Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral meeting which issued a joint statement where they “expressed their support to China to host Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
Other countries including the U.S., Japan, Australia, United Kingdom and a number of European countries including Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and the Czech Republic have announced their plans for diplomatic boycott: sending athletes and sports officials, but no diplomatic or political presence, in protest of China’s restrictions on its Uighur population in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.
Meanwhile Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Presidents of five Central Asian republics Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are due to attend the opening ceremony on Friday.
Mr. Putin is also expected to hold a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and in a statement ahead of Mr. Khan’s visit, the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Mr. Khan would meet Mr. Xi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and conclude a number of bilateral agreements.