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Choice of Uyghur torchbearer not meant to deflect Western criticism: China’s UN envoy

FILE PHOTO: 2022 Beijing Olympics - Opening Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 4, 2022. Torchbearers Zhao Jiawen and Dinigeer Yilamujiang hold the Olympic torch during the opening ceremony. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

China’s UN envoy has dismissed his American counterpart’s claim that China’s choice of an ethnic Uyghur as a torchbearer for the Olympic flame at the Beijing Winter Olympics opening ceremony was an attempt to divert attention away from his country’s alleged human rights violations against Muslim minorities.

What they’re saying: China “sternly refutes” the “unwarranted accusations” made by U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield in an interview with CNN, according to a statement on the embassy’s website.

  • Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a Xinjiang-born cross-country skier, is “among the best” among the 20 athletes from nine ethnic minorities competing for Team China at the Winter Games, according to Zhang.
  • “She is the pride and excellent representative of the Chinese people. Where does the U.S.’ inexplicable anger over this come from, and what intentions does it harbour?” Zhang said.

What’s going on: At the opening ceremony, Dinigeer was chosen as one of the last two torchbearers. Because of China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, many Western countries have enforced a diplomatic boycott of the Games.

  • Since 2016, more than a million individuals, mostly from the Uyghur and other Muslim minorities, have been incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang, according to UN experts and rights groups.
  • China denies allegations of abuse, portraying the camps as vocational centres aimed at combating extremism, and announcing in late 2019 that all inmates had graduated.
  • Mark Adams, a spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, said on Saturday that Dinigeer was not picked because of her nationality.
  • The torchbearers that carried the flame into the stadium were chosen based on their birth dates, with each being born in a different decade from the 1950s to the 2000s, according to the Chinese organisers.
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