China’s President Xi meets IOC chief Bach


China’s President Xi Jinping had a rare pandemic-era encounter with a foreign visitor Tuesday when he met with Olympic chief Thomas Bach as the country readies to host the Winter Games.

The meeting is expected to be the first of several for the Chinese president – who has not left the country since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic – as dignitaries including Russian President Vladimir Putin descend on Beijing for the Olympics.

“Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Presi-dent of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach in Beijing on Tuesday,” read a state-ment from Xinhua news agency.

Bach arrived in the city on Saturday and went into a “three-day isolation” ahead of the Games’ opening ceremony on February 4, Xinhua said in an earlier report.

Xi last met a visiting head of state in March 2020 when he received Pakistani President Arif Alvi in Beijing.

All his diplomatic meetings since then have been online forums or phone calls. Other leaders expected to join the opening cere-mony of the Olympics include Pakistan’s, Imran Khan.

Since early 2020, China has stuck to a strict zero-Covid policy that includes mass testing and snap lockdowns in response to the slightest hint of an outbreak.

Most visitors from abroad are forced to quaran-tine for multiple weeks but different rules are in place for the Olympics.

Participants will fly straight into a “closed loop” bubble in Beijing and are forbidden from interacting with the public. China on Tuesday reported 15 positive Covid tests among Olympics participants, including 12 who had been detected on arrival in the country.

Beijing hopes to make next week’s Olympics a soft power triumph, though the lead-up has been clouded by a diplomatic boycott from several west-ern countries over what Western governments argue are widespread rights abuses by China.

But Bach has insisted on the IOC’s “political neutrality”, even as the organisation drew fire for its video call with Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who had briefly disappeared after making sexual assault allegations against a top official.

Bach was criticised after his 30-minute call with Peng on November 21 for failing to make demands about her safety.

A statement from the IOC said Peng had “thanked the IOC for its concern about her well-being,” and said she preferred to “have her privacy respected at this time”.

The call ended with Bach inviting Peng “for a dinner once he arrives in Beijing next January”, according to a statement from the IOC.—AFP



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