Chinese President Xi declares biggest-ever Asian Games open

 HANGZHOU - Chinese President Xi Jin­ping declared the 19th Asian Games open at a colourful ceremony in Hangzhou on Saturday, launching a two-week sporting extravaganza that boasts more athletes than the Olympics. After being delayed by a year because of China’s now-abandoned zero-Covid policy, more than 12,000 competitors from 45 na­tions and territories will battle it out in 40 sports. In front of Syrian Presi­dent Bashar al-Assad and other visiting leaders, Xi officially opened the Games at the 80,000-ca­pacity Hangzhou Olym­pic stadium, also known as “the Big Lotus”. 

President Xi began his speech by expressing his delight at joining old and new friends to celebrate the opening of this pres­tigious sporting event. He conveyed his greet­ings on this special day of the Autumn Equinox, known as Qiufen in the Chinese lunar calendar, a day symbolizing harvest and reunion. 

China, honored with the privilege of hosting the Games, was praised by President Xi for its dedica­tion and tireless prepara­tions. He emphasized the country’s commitment to delivering an event that is distinctly Chinese, unique­ly Asian, and spectacular, thereby contributing to the Olympic Movement in Asia and the world. 

President Xi highlight­ed the significance of the Asian Games as a symbol of peace, unity, and inclu­siveness for the people of Asia. He urged the nations in the region to utilize sports to promote peace, good neighborli­ness, and mutual benefit, while rejecting Cold War mentalities and bloc con­frontations. President Xi envisioned Asia as an an­chor of world peace. 

The 19th Asian Games has broken records with the highest number of registered athletes and events, reflecting the im­mense support from the Asian people. President Xi stressed the importance of unity and solidarity in the face of global chal­lenges, emphasizing the motto of “Ever Onward” by the Olympic Council of Asia. He called for broad­er prospects for the Asian road toward common development, openness, and integration. 

Asia’s rich cultural heri­tage was also celebrated as President Xi noted the inclusion of disciplines with distinctive Asian fea­tures at the Games. He en­couraged the use of sports to promote inclusiveness, confidence in Asian civi­lizations, and exchanges with the world. 

President Xi reminisced about Hangzhou’s centu­ries-old history, describ­ing it as “the City of Heav­en” with breathtaking beauty. He praised Zheji­ang Province for its com­mitment to reform and modernization, empha­sizing its role as a pioneer in Chinese development. To conclude his speech, President Xi proposed a toast to the success of the 19th Asian Games, the ad­vancement of the Olym­pic Movement, the unity and friendship of Asian nations, and the health of all distinguished guests and their families. 

International Olympic Committee (IOC) Presi­dent Thomas Bach was also among the dignitar­ies -- and leaders from Cambodia, Kuwait and Ne­pal, among others, had all been expected to attend. “Finally, we can gather for the 19th Asian Games,” Raja Randhir Singh, act­ing President of Olympic Council of Asia, told the crowd to more cheers. “The one-year postpone­ment was unprecedented in OCA history,” he added. 

The security was tight in the area around the arena in the hours leading up to the ceremony, with roads closed and police stationed on street cor­ners. The spectators were given thorough security checks before entering and staff confiscated food and umbrellas. The light rainfall in recent days had stopped. The ceremony concluded with a re­sounding “Cheers!” as at­tendees raised their glass­es to mark the beginning of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.

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