With U.S., others boycotting, China's Olympic Opening Ceremony guest list is full of authoritarian leaders

·3 min read

Chinese president Xi Jinping will host a who's who of authoritarian leaders and other international dignitaries at the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs released its guest list on Friday, a week before the Feb. 4 festivities. Its headliner, as expected, is Vladimir Putin, who is allowed to attend as Xi's personal guest even though Russia is technically banned from the Games.

The United States, Canada and most of the European Union will not be represented. The U.S. announced in December that it would "not send any diplomatic or official representation" to the Olympics. The White House cited China's "ongoing genocide" against the Uyghurs and "other human rights abuses," and said it would "not be contributing to the fanfare of the Games."

Canada, Great Britain and Australia soon followed by announcing diplomatic boycotts of their own. Many European nations hesitated to make similar announcements, but on China's public guest list, Poland, Serbia, Luxembourg and Monaco were the only European countries mentioned. (The list is non-exhaustive.)

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with President of the International Olympic Committee IOC Thomas Bach at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, capital of China, Jan. 25, 2022. (Photo by Yao Dawei/Xinhua via Getty Images)
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with President of the International Olympic Committee IOC Thomas Bach at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, capital of China, Jan. 25, 2022. (Photo by Yao Dawei/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Instead, the most prominent attendees at the Opening Ceremony, the Chinese government said, will be heads of state from former Soviet republics and the Persian Gulf. After Putin, the next 11 dignitaries listed by the foreign ministry are:

  • King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia

  • President Halimah Yacob of Singapore

  • President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan

  • President Sadyr Japarov of Kyrgyzstan

  • President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan

  • President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov of Turkmenistan

  • President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan

  • President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi of Egypt

  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia

  • Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar

  • Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates

China said it and others will attend a "welcome banquet," attend the Friday night ceremony at Beijing's National Stadium, and engage in "relevant bilateral activities."

Also present will be Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee president who has claimed that his organization is not a political one.

The absentee list will represent the most significant shunning of an Olympics since the 1980s, when the U.S. led a full-fledged boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games, and the Soviet Union responded with a retaliatory boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

That U.S. boycott was in response to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and was enforced on U.S. athletes, who were essentially blocked by the government from attending the Games.

This diplomatic boycott, which will not affect athletes, is a response to what the White House and others have deemed crimes against humanity within China. The Chinese government has arbitrarily detained more than a million Muslims, many of them Uyghurs, in the country's western region of Xinjiang. Beijing has also cracked down on freedoms in Hong Kong, Tibet and Taiwan. Freedom House, which "rates people’s access to political rights and civil liberties in 210 countries and territories" around the world, gives China a score of 9 on a 100-point scale.

Three of the 11 countries listed above are worse. Their median score is 17. Only Singapore is considered "partly free." The rest are "not free."