President Xi Jinping has declared the Beijing Winter Olympics open on Friday as China tried to turn the page on a buildup overshadowed by human rights concerns, COVID and a US-led diplomatic boycott.
Fireworks exploded over the “Bird’s Nest” as the lattice-shaped stadium took centre stage, just as it did at the 2008 Games, as Beijing becomes the first city to host both a Summer and Winter Olympics.
The opening ceremony started at 8:00pm (12:00 GMT) and was attended by President Xi Jinping, under whose rule China has adopted a more muscular attitude internationally compared with 14 years ago.
The snowflake-themed ceremony got off to a solemn start when eight soldiers slow-marched with the Chinese flag, before the national anthem rang out into the cold night air.
Xi was given a rapturous welcome by the socially distanced crowd wearing face masks, for what his governing Communist Party hopes will be a soft-power triumph.
China and Russia have both seen ties with Washington deteriorate markedly, and with tensions rising in Europe over Russia’s troop buildup on the Ukrainian border, Putin hailed the “truly unprecedented nature” of relations with his hosts.
The United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia are among countries staging a diplomatic boycott of the Games over China’s rights record, particularly the treatment of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang.