Russian President Vladimir Putin accepted an invitation to attend the 2022 Beijing Olympics as Chinese officials face the risk of an international boycott, heightened by the fallout from the disappearance of a tennis star who accused a senior Chinese Communist official of sexual assault.

“It has been a long-running fine tradition for the Chinese and Russian sides to work in concert to accomplish great things,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said. “President Putin has accepted the invitation with joy. The two sides are in close communication regarding the specific arrangement for President Putin's trip to China.”

Human rights activists and many Western lawmakers have supported a boycott of the Olympics due to China’s atrocities against the Uyghur Muslims, a campaign of repression that the United States has deemed a “genocide.” That distaste for the Beijing games was compounded by Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai’s Nov. 2 statement that a retired member of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo had sexually assaulted her — a claim that was censored, as her social media accounts went dormant prior to a monitored video meeting with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.

“This is not a diplomatic matter,” Zhao said Tuesday. “I believe everyone will have seen she has recently attended some public activities and also held a video call with IOC President Bach. I hope certain people will cease malicious hyping, let alone politicization.”


Bach’s team characterized Peng as “doing fine” and desirous of privacy, an account that drew sharp criticism from human rights observers.

“The IOC has vaulted itself from silence about Beijing’s abysmal human rights record to active collaboration with Chinese authorities in undermining freedom of speech and disregarding alleged sexual assault,” Human Rights Watch senior China researcher Yaqiu Wang said Monday.“The IOC appears to prize its relationship with a major human rights violator over the rights and safety of Olympic athletes.”

That assessment found an echo in the European Parliament, where a majority of lawmakers have voted to urge European Union leaders to “decline invitations” to the Beijing games in solidarity with the Uyghurs.

“If someone in China would want to use the #IOC's help to cover up the Peng Shuai story, this kind of call is what they'd arrange,” Reinhard Butikofer, a German lawmaker who chairs the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with China, wrote Monday on Twitter. [Peng Shuai]’s real situation is demonstrated by the fact that she can only be reached by those that play along with Beijing's propaganda.”

In that context, as Chinese and Russian officials highlighted the plan to host Putin in Beijing, Putin’s allies condemned Western talk of a boycott.


"It is particularly sad to hear this confrontational rhetoric coming from our colleagues in the parliamentary community," Russian Federation Council Chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko, the top lawmaker in Russia’s upper chamber, said Tuesday. "I believe that the calls from on high to boycott the Winter Olympics in Beijing are inadmissible ... Such statements contradict both the parliamentary spirit and the Olympic principles.”