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Race to the finish line

China and Kazakhstan [SPORT]

After a host of potential bidders pulled out under public pressure, the race for the 2022 Winter Olympics has come down to two Asian countries where public opposition is rarely a problem: China and Kazakhstan. Ahead of the International Olympic Committee’s vote, here’s a brief comparison of the Beijing and Almaty bids.

  1. Budget considerations
    Beijing: Needs new mountain venues and high-speed rail connection to Beijing. Budget reported between $3.8bn and $3.5bn (€2.7bn and €3.4bn).
    Almaty: Promising a compact Olympics using venues built for the 2011 Asian Winter Games. Budget is a reported $3.5bn (€3.2bn).

  2. Landmark venue
    Beijing: The Water Cube hosted swimming during the 2008 Olympics and could accommodate figure-skating and curling events in 2022. Almaty: The Medeu high-mountain skating rink is one of the world’s highest skating rinks.

  3. Best big propaganda
    Beijing: “It is a harmonious, liveable city that is imbued with the Beijing Spirit: patriotism, innovation, inclusiveness, virtue.”
    Almaty: “We may not be well-known yet but if you come to Almaty you will be surprised by the mix of natural beauty, modern lifestyle, a multi-ethnic society and a warm hospitality.”

  4. Public support
    Beijing: Beijing: 91.8 per cent; Zhangjiakou (host of skiing events): 99.5 per cent; China overall: 94.8 per cent.
    Almaty: Almaty: 85 per cent; Kazakhstan overall: 87 per cent.

Monocle comment: With such little choice, we’d advocate reopening the bidding process to give Oslo a chance to change its mind.

New horizons

Japan [TOURISM]

Can tourism change the bunker mindset of Japan’s border territories? A Nagoya-based non-profit group, known as the Japan Centre for Borderlands Studies, thinks so. Since March, the jcbs has offered tours to Tsushima, a group of islands that is ruled by Japan in the Korea Strait. South Korea also claims ownership of the islands, which it calls Daemado.

In recent years, South Korean tourists have outnumbered Japanese on Tsushima, leading one conservative Japanese daily to raise concerns about the security risks facing the islands. But jcbs, which is formed by Japanese scholars, says the goal isn’t to aggravate relations between Tokyo and Seoul; it hopes to help the economy of border territories so that they will seem less like fortified outposts. Next on the group’s agenda: tours to Japanese territories bordering Russia and Taiwan.

Korean change

India [DIPLOMACY]

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s Act East Policy, which was unveiled last year, signalled an effort to cosy up to his neighbours in Asia, including North Korea. In April, North Korean foreign minister Ri Su Yong paid a visit to New Delhi, the first for Pyongyang’s top diplomat in 25 years. While Pyongyang has been shunned by much of the global community, New Delhi has quietly maintained normal trade relations with the isolated state. Specifics of the meeting were kept under wraps but it shows how New Delhi is courting Pyongyang and emerging as a regional counterweight to China, North Korea’s traditional ally.

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