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Olympic Committee chief pushes back against China's political statements

A spokeswoman for the Beijing Games had weighed in on some of the most sensitive issues for China, including Taiwan and the Uyghur population.
Image: President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, speaks during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, on Feb. 4, 2022, in Beijing.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach speaks during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Games on Feb. 4.David J. Phillip / AP

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach pushed back Friday against statements made by a Chinese official in what appeared to be a rare public reproach of host China.

Responding to a question about comments a spokeswoman for the Beijing Olympics made at a news conference Thursday, Bach said Olympic officials had not ignored the “problem” and had talked with Beijing organizers.

“Both organizations — BOCOG and the IOC — have restated their unequivocal commitment to remain politically neutral as is it is required by the Olympic Charter,” he told reporters Friday, referring to the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games.

The Olympic Charter says that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

The statements in question were made the day before by spokeswoman Yan Jiarong, who weighed in on questions posed to IOC spokesman Mark Adams addressing some of the most sensitive issues for China, including Taiwan and the Uyghur population.

Responding to a question about the delegation from Taiwan participating in the opening and the closing ceremonies, Yan said “there is only one China in the world.”

“Taiwan is an indivisible part of China and this is a well recognized international principle and well recognized in the international community. We are always against the idea of politicizing the Olympic Games,” she said. 

Spokespersons Of Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee Announced
Yan Jiarong.VCG via Getty Images

Taiwan is a self-governing democracy that Beijing claims as its territory. Taiwanese athletes have long competed under the name Chinese Taipei and are not able to use Taiwan’s flag.

Yan also referred to other assertions about China’s treatment of Uyghurs in the northwestern region of Xinjiang as “based on lies.” 

In response to a question about the IOC’s position on the reported existence of “concentration camps” in Xinjiang, and whether China was using forced labor there, Yan weighed in.   

“I think these questions are very much based on lies,” she said. “Some authorities have already disputed such false information with a lot of solid evidence. You are very welcome to refer to all that evidence and the facts.”

She made similar remarks when Adams was asked if the IOC uniforms included products from Xinjiang.

The United States and others have described the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uyghurs as genocide. Beijing has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of the largely Muslim ethnic minority, insisting its actions in Xinjiang have been taken to combat terrorism.

The run-up to the Games was overshadowed by a U.S.-led diplomatic boycott that centered on the human rights concerns. China told the U.S. to stop “interfering” in the Games and said pressure will only make the Chinese people more united.

In the opening ceremony earlier this month, Chinese officials delivered a defiant message to the world leaders boycotting the Games by choosing a Uyghur cross-country skier from the western region of Xinjiang to deliver the ceremonial flame, a moment which often carries symbolic weight.