China’s regime touts Xinjiang, hotspot for Uyghur persecution, as a winter sports paradise

Ski resort in Xinjiang (AFP) (STR/)

The vast Chinese region of Xinjiang has made headlines as the epicenter of alleged human rights abuses. But the regimen Xi Jinping seeks to be recognized as a paradise for winter sports.

As organizers of the Winter Olympics, China‘s communist authorities have declared their intention to transform its fledgling winter sports industry into a $157 billion business and have given Xinjiang a starring role.

This aspiration collides with the accusations of human rights groups according to more than a million people in this western region, home to the Uyghur Muslim minority, are detained in internment and forced labor camps.

The United States and some Western parliaments accuse “genocide” to Beijing, who denies all the accusations and reproaches his critics for the “politicization” of sport.

While, numerous state media publish reports of a “ski fever” in Xinjiang, accompanied by images of wealthy urban youths taking selfies in ski clothes facing the snowy mountains of the region.

This photo taken on February 3, 2022 shows a snowboarder on a run at a ski field in Hami in China's western Xinjiang region.  - China's vast region of Xinjiang has been in the headlines as a center of China's alleged rights abuses, but Beijing is keen it gets recognition for another reason -- as a winter sports mecca.  (Photo by CNS / AFP) / China OUT / TO GO WITH Oly-2022-China-Xinjiang,FOCUS by Laurie Chen and Beiyi Seow
Tourist in Xinjiang (AFP) (STR/)

The number of ski resorts in the country has quadrupled since Beijing’s bid won the Olympics allocation. In Xinjiang alone, 72 have been erected.

State media published multiple reports with locals enjoying themselves on the ice and praising young athletes of the ethnic minorities of the region. In one post, a video blogger from the Uyghur minority visits a new snow park in a desert area of ​​southern Xinjiang “happy and excited”.

A young Uyghur cross-country skier was even chosen to co-star in the final torch relay at Friday’s opening ceremony.

No one was unaware of the political component of the election of authorities who carefully choreograph their image on the international scene.


“China’s policy of vigorously developing ice and snow sports and promoting people’s health is benefiting people of all ethnic groups,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said this week.

“It also shows that members of different ethnic groups are all part of one big family,” he added.

The cradle of skiing?

The torchbearer, Dinigeer Yilamujiang, hails from Xinjiang’s mountainous Altay prefecture.

Analysis of satellite data from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute suggests that that area houses up to 12 detention centers built during the repression of the central government.

Detention center in Dabancheng, Xinjiang (Reuters)
Detention center in Dabancheng, Xinjiang (Reuters) (Thomas Peter /)

But Beijing seeks to promote it as the birthplace of skiing.with Chinese academics arguing that prehistoric drawings found in Altay caves show that this practice existed in this region 10,000 years ago.

Still, archaeologists have found evidence of primitive skis in numerous prehistoric societies around the world.

Officials say that around 300 million Chinese have taken part in winter sports since the allocation of the Beijing Games, a figure that has been enthusiastically repeated by the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach.

Some estimates suggest that China is on its way to becoming the world’s largest skiing nation, also favored by sectors of the population that are socially ascending and are confined within its borders by the coronavirus, said sports analyst Mark Dreyer, located in China.

Promoting Xinjiang as a winter sports destination “checks all the boxes: sporting, economic and political,” he said.

“A kind of Disneyland”

Most of Xinjiang’s ski resorts are located in ethnically diverse areas near the borders with Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Six athletes from Xinjiang are taking part in the games, including one Uyghur and three Kazakhs.

human rights groups they fear that China will glorify these athletes from ethnic minorities to whitewash abuses in the regionadding to the propaganda efforts to portray Xinjiang as an attractive tourist destination.

Beijing also wants to promote ethnic unity and cultural assimilation among minorities in its border regions.

The Chinese government has promoted tourism in Xinjiang, turning the region into a kind of Disneyland in which the inhabitants are stripped of their identity and opinion.”, denounced Maya Wang, of Human Rights Watch.

Uyghurs protest in Istanbul (Reuters)
Uyghurs protest in Istanbul (Reuters) (DILARA SENKAYA /)

Tourists meet a curated experience prepared by the State”, he added.

A local official told the China Daily that the region offers tourism, winter sports and “folk experiences.”

Consultant Laurent Vanat, who advised the local government on the construction of ski resorts in Altay in 2019, conceded that there are “signs of success” in the region’s industry, but said it will remain “a niche market”.

In your opinion, poor infrastructure will deter tourists, with air connectivity, runway availability and weather conditions far worse than major European hubssaid to AFP.

Experts also point out that the human rights issue may hamper Beijing’s dreams of turning Xinjiang into an international tourist hubas winter sports are especially popular in Western countries that have criticized China over this issue.

The countries that are most allied with China can ignore the Xinjiagn issues, but they are not ski countriesDreyer said. “It will have to be 100% focused on the domestic market”, he added.

(With information from AFP/By Laurie Chen and Beiyi Seow)


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