Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, issued what amounts to a rare and surprising rebuke from a Chinese Olympic official during a press conference on Friday.
His remarks came after Beijing Olympics spokesperson Yan Jiarong made comments at a press conference the day before that appeared to violate Olympic rules on political neutrality.
“We were in touch with BOCOG immediately after this press conference,” Bach said, using the acronym of the Beijing Olympic Games Organizing Committee, “and the two organizations, BOCOG and the IOC, reaffirmed their unequivocal commitment to remain politically neutral as required by the Olympic Charter.
Yan, asked Thursday about the participation of Taiwanese athletes in the closing ceremony on Sunday, replied: “What I mean is that there is only one China in the world.” Taiwan is a democratic island nation that is self-governing but considered part of Chinese territory by the government in Beijing.
“Taiwan is an indivisible part of China,” said Yan, who previously served as a Chinese envoy to the United Nations.
Taiwan competes as Chinese Taipei during the Olympics.
Yan also came after an Olympic committee spokesman was questioned whether the materials for the uniforms were made by forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region. “I think these questions are very much based on lies,” she said. “Some authorities have already challenged this misinformation with plenty of solid evidence.”
Yan’s comments appeared to violate Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which prohibits any kind of “political, religious or racial demonstration or propaganda” at the Games.
Although Bach did not directly condemn Yan’s comments, even mild criticism amounted to some of the strongest words he spoke about China. Bach strove ahead of the Olympics to position them as an event that is and must remain politically neutral, even though this has long been an IOC ideal rather than a reality.
Bach declined to comment when asked on the evening of the opening ceremony if he had a message for the Uyghur people, a predominantly Muslim minority group in Xinjiang. China’s crackdown on Uyghurs has been called a genocide by the US government. “If we take a political point of view and find ourselves in the midst of tension, conflict and political power clashes, then we put the Games at risk,” he said.