HANGZHOU, Sept. 23 (Xinhua) -- Less than two years after the successful Beijing Winter Olympics, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday opened the Hangzhou Asian Games, the largest in terms of athlete participation and sporting events in the 72-year Asiad history.
"I declare the 19th Asian Games open," Xi said in his baritone voice in a packed stadium with over 80,000 seats in Hangzhou, a scenic city once hailed by 13th-century Italian traveler Marco Polo as "the City of Heaven, the finest and the noblest in the world."
The Games, launched at the lotus-shaped Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center Stadium, boasts some 12,000 athletes from all 45 members of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), who will compete in 481 events across 40 sports.
The Hangzhou Games is the third Asiad held in China, after Beijing 1990 and Guangzhou 2010.
Foreign dignitaries joining Xi at the ceremony included King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, and OCA Acting President Raja Randhir Singh.
Aside from opening ceremony staples such as a parade of athletes, speeches and gala performances, spectators were treated to some unique experiences including digital fireworks and a digital torchbearer, part of Hangzhou's efforts to make the Games smart and carbon neutral.
The curtains of the Games were raised on the day of the Autumn Equinox, known as Qiufen on the Chinese lunar calendar, symbolizing harvest and reunion.
A day before, Xi told Bach that the Chinese government and people are fully confident in presenting a great Games. He promised that the Hangzhou Games would be "distinctly Chinese, uniquely Asian, and spectacular."
"I believe we will have the greatest ever Asiad," Singh has said during an interview.
"This is the fourth time I have come to the Asian Games. So far it is my best Asiad experience," said 36-year-old Iranian volleyball player Seyed Mohammad Mousavi Eraghi, whose goal this time is to claim his fourth Asian Games medal.
Xi is a champion of sports, and he sets his eyes beyond the Games.
He and the guests held multiple bilateral meetings over the past two days, during which they discussed a wide range of issues. Xi and Assad announced establishing a China-Syria strategic partnership. Xi and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao of Timor-Leste announced the elevation of bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership.
Addressing a welcome banquet ahead of the opening ceremony, Xi called for leveraging the role of sports to promote peace, unity and inclusiveness.
"We should use sports to promote peace, pursue good neighborliness and mutual benefit, and reject Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation," Xi told the guests. "We should make Asia an anchor of world peace."
On unity, Xi said as humanity faces unprecedented global challenges, Asian people should jointly stand up to the test.
He also stressed the efforts to promote inclusiveness through sports, as the continent is home to two-thirds of the world's population and over 1,000 different ethnic groups.
Zhou Jinqiang, deputy president of the Hangzhou Asian Games Organizing Committee, said the Hangzhou Asiad is not only a crucial platform for enhancing solidarity and cooperation within the Asian sports community, but also marks "a solid step in fostering an Asian community with a shared future."
Borrowing the OCA motto of "Ever Onward," Xi called for joint efforts across the continent to open up broader prospects for the Asian road toward common development, openness and integration. ■