Leer en Español
Art, cinema, culture, shows, and entertainment, in general, are intimately connected to politics and business. Sports is no exception. Since it was confirmed back in 2015 that China will host the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games, few thought it would be a political issue at the time. They were wrong.
China’s growth as a commercial giant and political hierarch is undeniable. Today, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in addition to dominating its region economically and threatening the United States as the first global power, also intercedes and has a strong foothold in the main international organizations and in underdeveloped regions such as Africa and Latin America. In other words, the Chinese regime has more and more allies and greater influence worldwide.
Many might have forgotten that the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing facilitated China’s expansionist plan because it allowed the country to increase its global commercial relations to levels never seen before.
Problems with Human Rights
For several months now, human rights groups and activists have been denouncing the Chinese communist regime’s outrages against Chinese citizens, protesters in Hong Kong, and religious ethnic minorities such as the Uyghurs. Since the denunciations are not affecting the regime politically, which systematically denies the accusations, the activists decided to go for something that can hurt the CCP: a trade boycott.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics had a very similar context to next year’s Winter Olympics. The Chinese regime was accused by human rights activists of increasing its repressive tactics in the run-up to that competition. In fact, Human Rights Watch said in 2008 that the tournament was “tainted” by this situation.
Between 2007 and 2008, the organization extensively documented human rights violations associated with China’s hosting of the 2008 Beijing Games, “including forced evictions, abuses against migrant workers, media censorship, and repression of civil society.”
The communist regime was also accused of expropriating property under the guise of “ceding land” for the Olympics.
The regime, which had pledged to put human rights violations aside and improve the overall situation for the Olympics, persecuted activists with impunity, curtailed religious freedoms by persecuting Tibetans, and restricted freedom of speech and press. In short, it systematically abused global “trust” to take advantage of one of the world’s most important sporting events to grow economically and open up more to the world.
Before Beijing 2008, China was still a long way from becoming the global power it is today and, in fact, was having a hard time. As the newspaper El País recalls: “2008 itself was not an easy year for the Asian giant. Economically, although growth remained high, rising inflation had become the number one problem. In May, the earthquake in Sichuan caused significant damage, as well as nearly 100,000 deaths and people missing, more than 350,000 injured, 12 million displaced, several cities totally destroyed and some 20 billion euros in losses, according to official estimates”.
Naively, the Western world saw the 2008 Olympics as an opportunity to include China more in democratic values and to try to change the totalitarian character of the regime. It was not only a failure, but a Trojan Horse set up by the Western nations themselves.
The Chinese regime tried to conceal its violations of freedoms by granting greater facilities to the international press to cover the Olympics, but it was not enough.
Western leaders, the press, and the world criticized China, but it only had to ask for the separation of sport from politics and the games went ahead without major incidents.
With the non-political premise in sport, China organized one of the most successful Olympics to date. Aesthetically it was a unique event. The beautiful opening and closing ceremonies, where Chinese culture was the main protagonist, left spectators from all over the world speechless. A month of sporting festivities was enough to almost completely forget the totalitarian nature of the Chinese regime.
At the time, the event broke television audience records and thousands of sponsors, such as Coca-Cola, Adidas, Visa International and Samsung, supported the project, ultimately boosting tourism to China. Although the Chinese regime did not embrace the principles of freedom, it did open up to the world, economically.
The inflation that hit the Asian country at the time was nothing more than a small “stain” for the regime, which got lucky after the staging of the OG: its investments in the world grew and the financial sector came out even stronger.
In short, the regime efficiently took advantage of a sporting event of global magnitude. China had no problem in sacrificing a little of its deteriorated humanistic image in order to do business.
History repeats itself with the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games
Trump has been one of the U.S. presidents to put the most pressure on China. At first glance, it could be seen how conflicts between the two global powers escalated and crossed unprecedented limits. That is set to change under President Joe Biden.
Biden wants to bury most of Trump’s policies: from social programs and economic policies all the way through diplomatic stances. In that sense, the messages and signals from the Biden-Harris administration to China have been excessively cautious; seeking a cordial path that gives them a position of comfort. The president even refused to directly condemn the genocide against the Uyghurs.
Biden’s aim is not to escalate the conflict with China but the truth is that this matters little. The Chinese Communist Party is not interested in sending friendly signals to the world. As an example, we have the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in China, and of which we are not sure how it emerged because Xi Jinping’s regime does not allow independent investigations in its territory.
Last Tuesday there was an event that evidenced the submission of the USA with respect to the Chinese regime, related to the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games.
State Department spokesman Ned Price stated in a report that the US should work with its allies to assess how to pressure Beijing regarding its human rights violations and the Beijing 2020 Olympic Games. However, he mentioned that time is still needed for a decision to be made.
“We’re talking about 2022, and we are still in April of 2021, so these Games remain some time away,” Price said. “I wouldn’t want to put a time frame on it, but these discussions are underway.”
On Tuesday, after the meeting, the spokesman also tweeted regarding the issue:
“As I said, we don’t have any announcement regarding the Beijing Olympics. 2022 remains a ways off, but we will continue to consult closely with allies and partners to define our common concerns and establish our shared approach to the PRC.”
— Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) April 6, 2021
These statements, which were not very clear, invited some people to believe that the Democratic administration would be evaluating a trade boycott of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games along with other countries. Big mistake.
The State Department, alarmed by the statements, quickly came out to clarify that they are not weighing any kind of action against China and the OG: “‘Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed. We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners.’” said a Department official.
On the other hand, the Communist Party, furious, quickly came out to threaten the US, warning that, if there was an attempted boycott, there would be a “robust response from China.”
In reality, China has not stopped going against the US since Biden took office. At the first bilateral meeting between the Biden-Harris administration and China in Alaska, US Secretary of State Blinken, as expected, tried to carry forward much less harsh rhetoric than that of the Trump administration, while still raising US concerns.
The Chinese regime’s foreign affairs officer, Yan Jiechi, left the cordialities behind and was forceful in criticizing the United States and highlighting what he sees as the superiority of the Chinese model of government to that of America.
A submissive West led by the USA
The position of Western countries, led mainly by the United States, in relation to the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games looks submissive, docile, and unconcerned.
The Chinese regime, as it grows economically, advances its geopolitical interests incredibly. Last year, despite the pandemic, China was the only power that did not see its Gross Domestic Product decline. Moreover, culturally, although there are multiple denunciations and reports highlighting the totalitarian nature of the CCP, it seems that the Western press is beginning to accept the model of the Chinese regime.
For example, The New York Times published a report explaining that China is showing the world “its version of freedom” during the pandemic. The Times article was widely questioned because of the outrages against the most basic freedoms that the CCP systematically violates.
In short, Xi Jinping’s regime is expanding and is waiting for the Olympics to show itself to the world as the economic power it is now. If in Beijing 2008, when the country was still on its way to becoming a power, the world was amazed by China’s logistical capacity, culture, and aesthetics, it is worth asking ourselves: what could the CCP not achieve next year?
Although some do not see it, sport and politics are intimately linked. If an event like the Olympics is successful, it means a political and commercial coup. Xi Jinping and the entire CCP are looking forward to the Olympics. And their only concern, today, is a trade boycott.
Despite the many denunciations, human rights groups are orphaned and have little chance of achieving anything without a major ally. As it is, the only country with serious possibilities to confront China is the United States, but the U.S., like most of the West, has adopted a docile position toward the Chinese Communist Party.
Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.