India Wasn’t Going to Protest the Olympics. Then It Found Out About China’s Torchbearer.

A Chinese soldier who fought Indian troops in a recent border skirmish was picked to join the Olympic torch relay.
China India border clash
Chinese soldier Qi Fabao (center) participated in the Olympic torch relay along with speed skater Wang Meng (right). Photo: Zhao Juan/China News Service via Getty Images

India’s top diplomat in China will skip the ceremonies of the 2022 Winter Olympics after a Chinese soldier who fought deadly battles with Indian forces was selected as a torchbearer. 

Chinese and Indian troops fought in a disputed region of the Himalayas in mid-2020, with both sides accusing the other of trespassing. The skirmish in Ladakh, which killed at least 20 Indians and four Chinese soidlers, have triggered nationalistic anger in the two nations and led to continuing tensions. 

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On Wednesday, Colonel Qi Fabao, a regiment commander who fought in the battle, participated in the Olympic torch relay in Beijing along with 1,200 others, including astronauts and Olympic medalists. Qi sustained head injuries in the fight and has been hailed as a hero by the Communist Party leadership. 

The selection of Qi as a torchbearer provoked strong condemnation from the Indian government and prompted it to pull its top convoy in Beijing from the opening and closing ceremonies. 

“It is indeed regrettable that the Chinese side has chosen to politicize an event like the Olympics,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Arindam Bagchi said on Wednesday. 

India’s sole athlete in the Olympics, alpine skier Arif Khan, is still expected to carry the country’s flag into the opening ceremony on Thursday.

The Olympics have already been plagued by geopolitical tensions and concerns regarding Beijing’s human rights practices. The United States is leading a diplomatic boycott, and many other state leaders are skipping the games citing COVID-19 risks. 

The Chinese government argued their absence would not impact the Winter Olympics, a key event for it to demonstrate China’s national strength. The Games’ guest list is now filled with leaders of authoritarian countries with deep investment ties with China, including Russian President President Vladimir Putin, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi of Egypt. 

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, emphasized the committee’s “political neutrality” at a news conference in Beijing on Thursday. When asked about the Chinese soldier’s participation as a torchbearer, Bach said he was unaware of the details, but a British veteran who fought in Afghanistan carried the torch during the 2012 London Olympics. 

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