As a host of an international sporting event, Beijing was expected to rise above bilateral tensions
India’s diplomatic boycott of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Winter Games is an apt and justifiable response to an ugly and uncalled for provocation by China. By fielding a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) commander, involved in the June 2020 Galwan clash in which India lost 20 soldiers, as an Olympic torchbearer, China has deliberately hit India below the belt. It clearly amounted to mocking and hurting the sensibilities of Indians. As a host of an international sporting event, Beijing was expected to honour the decorum and dignity of the occasion, rise above bilateral tensions and send across a message of friendship and peace. But, it chose to provoke India and fielded a PLA commander as one of the participants in the traditional torch relay. India is the 10th country to announce a diplomatic boycott, which means that it will send no official delegation or diplomatic representative to the Games. However, the sole Indian athlete to qualify for the tournament– skier Arif Khan— is taking part in the competition. Though the boycott does not extend to the sporting events, it has certainly marred President Xi Jinping’s image and his efforts send a message to the world that the pandemic has not affected China’s ability to put up a massive show. It is ironic that as recently as in November, New Delhi had joined Moscow in expressing support for the Beijing games, following a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China.
The Winter Games are being held at a time when China has been flexing its muscles and making an unabashed display of its territorial hegemony in the region. The military threats to Taiwan and the attempts to change the facts on the ground in several disputed islands in the South China Sea are examples of China’s growing aggression. It has also been quite aggressive over the last few years in building infrastructure along the border with India. At the political level, Beijing has been relentlessly trying to drive a wedge between India and its Himalayan neighbours — Nepal and Bhutan — and undermine Indian influence in the Maldives and Sri Lanka. India has taken a tough stance following the Galwan clash. Though India has been sincere in its efforts to de-escalate tensions in Eastern Ladakh, the 13th and 14th rounds of Corps Commander-level talks — in October and January respectively — failed to break the deadlock because of the intransigence on the part of Chinese military authorities. As if this was not enough, a massive Chinese build-up of infrastructure along the border is causing fresh concerns. It is a long way to go for India if it has to catch up with China on border infrastructure.
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