A giant snowflake has been lit to signal the official start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing during a stripped-back opening ceremony which had been boycotted by several western governments over human rights concerns.
The Olympic torch was placed into the centre of the snowflake which was comprised of placards with the names of 91 countries taking part in the 2022 Games.
Another feature was the Olympic rings rising from a giant ice block on the floor of China’s Bird’s Nest stadium which signalled the start of the procession of rugged-up athletes.
A giant snowflake cauldron under the frozen Olympic rings. Photo: Getty
But as warmly-clad performers entertained the world with scenes of a winter wonderland, the real show was happening on the sidelines between the powerful leaders of China and Russia.
President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin held a meeting on the same day as the opening ceremony and afterward issued a joint call for NATO to stop further expansion.
Russia has been threatening Ukraine with its troop presence near their border as Mr Putin tries to prevent Russia’s neighbour from joining NATO and becoming increasingly closer with the West.
There are heightened concerns of Russia invading Ukraine which has prompted the USA to deploy troops to the region.
In a statement from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), the two leaders declared they would “oppose further enlargement of NATO”.
They also called on NATO to “abandon its ideologised cold war approaches, to respect the sovereignty, security and interests of other countries, the diversity of their civilizational, cultural and historical backgrounds, and to exercise a fair and objective attitude towards the peaceful development of other States”.
Mr Putin was pictured at the opening ceremony and was among a small group of world leaders to attend the Games.
Australia was among a number of Western governments, including the USA and UK, not to send diplomatic representation over concerns about China’s human rights record.
While in China, Mr Putin also agreed to a 30-year contract to supply gas to China via a new pipeline which will connect Russia’s far east region with northeast China.
Under plans previously drawn up, Russia aimed to supply China with 38 bcm of gas by pipeline by 2025.
‘Give peace a chance’
Torch bearer Wang Wenzhuo, a freestyle skier, prepares to light up the Olympic cauldron. Photo: Getty
At the freezing opening ceremony, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Tomas Bach said one of the missions of the Games was to “unite humankind in all our diversity”.
Mr Bach urged world leaders to “give peace a chance”.
“In our fragile world, where division, conflict and mistrust are on the rise, we show the world: yes, it is possible to be fierce rivals, while at the same time living peacefully and respectfully together,” he said.
The IOC has been criticised for awarding the Games to China because of the country’s alleged human rights abuses.
Australian flag bearers Brendan Kerry and Laura Peel. Photo: Getty
Australia’s flag bearers were figure skater Brendan Kerry and freestyle skier Laura Peel who led out a team dressed in warm green tracksuits and yellow face masks.
But it was the American Samoa flagbearer Nathan Crumpton who stole the show as he represented his nation with no shirt on and sandals in freezing conditions.
American Samoa’s Nathan Crumpton keeps his cool. Photo: Getty
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