The Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008 showed China’s re-emergence on the world stage. By awarding these Games to China, the International Olympic Committee predicted that the Olympics could improve human rights, and Chinese politicians hinted at the same.
Rising promises are absent this time as the Beijing Winter Olympics open in just over a week amid a two-year pandemic.
The Games are a reminder of China’s rise to power, but also its disregard for civil liberties, prompting a diplomatic boycott led by the United States, which has called China’s internment of at least 1 million Uyghurs a genocide .
Rights groups have documented forced labor, mass detention and torture, which China calls the “lie of the century”.
With more political, economic and military clout, China seems to care less about global scrutiny than 13½ years ago. And the pandemic has given him even more control over the Olympics, notably with the isolation of visiting journalists, separated in a “bubble” from the general Chinese population.
“There is nothing to ‘prove’ at this stage; 2008 was a ‘coming out’ party and this one just confirms what we’ve known for a decade,” Amanda Shuman, a China researcher at the University of Freiburg, wrote in an email. ‘Associated Press.
“If anything, there’s a lot less pressure than in 2008,” she said. “The Chinese government knows very well that its global economic advantage allows it to do whatever it wants.”
The IOC had few options when it awarded China the Games or the second time around. Six potential European candidates, led by Norway and Sweden, withdrew for political or cost reasons. Voters in two other countries – Switzerland and Germany – voted “no” in referendums.
IOC members ultimately chose Beijing over Almaty, Kazakhstan, in a close vote – 44-40. The result came on ballots after the IOC said there was an electronic problem in the first vote. Beijing becomes the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Games.
IOC President Thomas Bach called Beijing a “safe bet”. China spent more than $40 billion to stage the 2008 Olympics. The authoritarian state doesn’t need voter approval to continue.
As for Kazakhstan, it was hit this month on the eve of the Olympics by massive protests and political unrest.
The IOC allowed China to avoid human rights monitoring. Starting with the Paris Olympics in 2024, cities must adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. However, China was not subject to these rules when it was chosen in 2015.
“When China hosts the Olympics again, it will no longer be the China of 2008,” wrote Ai Weiwei, the famous Chinese dissident artist, in an email to the AP. Ai helped design the famous Bird’s Nest stadium – hoping it would mean a new opening – and later regretted doing it, calling it the “fake smile” of the Olympics in China.
Ai was imprisoned in 2011 in China on unspecified charges and lives in exile in Portugal. The Bird’s Nest will once again host the opening ceremony on February 4.
“Today, China has moved even further away from democracy, press freedom and human rights, and the reality has become even harsher,” Ai added.
Here are some examples of how China’s tone has hardened.
In 2008, Beijing clamped down on broadcasting from Tiananmen Square but allowed it; accepted “protest zones”, although they were never used with access repeatedly denied; and removed some reporting restrictions more than a year before the Games. He also unblocked his censored internet for journalists.
In 2022, there are fewer dwellings. The pandemic will limit journalists to a hermetically sealed “bubble”, even if there will be internet access. Chinese organizers have warned foreign athletes that any statement contrary to Chinese laws could be punished, and a smartphone app widely used by athletes and journalists has glaring security flaws, according to an internet watchdog.
Some National Olympic Committees have advised teams and staff not to bring personal phones or laptops to Beijing. The IOC, which generates billions in sponsorships and broadcast rights, rarely publicly pushes back against Chinese organizers who are, in effect, the Chinese government.
The changes affecting 2022 began a month after the end of the 2008 Olympics when the global financial crisis hit global economies. China fared better than most, which, coupled with the Olympics, boosted their confidence. It also coincides with the rise of Xi Jinping, who led the 2008 Olympics and was named general secretary of the Communist Party of China in 2012.
“Although Xi was responsible for the 2008 Olympics, the Winter Games are really Xi’s Games,” said Xu Guoqi, who teaches history at the University of Hong Kong. He is the author of “Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008”.
Mary Gallagher, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan, said the state of US democracy and its “poor response to the pandemic” has further emboldened China.
“Right now, multiple American failures are creating momentum for renewed nationalism and confidence in China,” Gallagher said by email. “This is made all the more effective by the Communist Party’s tight control over information, which can rain down ‘positive energy’ on what is happening in China while only publishing negative accounts from other countries. , especially from the United States”.
China complained in 2008 that human rights protests around Tibet are politicizing the Olympics. The Olympic torch relay, taken on a world tour, faced violent protests in London and elsewhere. The IOC has not attempted such a relay since, and then-president Jacques Rogge said the protests had put the Beijing Olympics in “crisis”.
China again claims the Olympics is all about sport, a shield the IOC’s Bach also uses against critics. China says mixed politics goes against the Olympic Charter, although China itself got involved in politics by boycotting the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
“Sports and politics intertwine,” Laura Luehrmann, a China scholar at Wright State University, said in an email. “Politics is about the distribution and use of limited resources – notably power and decision-making, but also finances. Sport is about power and money, even if it is presented as glorifying achievement athletic.
Victor Cha, who served in the White House under President George W. Bush and is the author of “Beyond the Final Score – The Politics of Sports in Asia,” said China complaining that other politicize the sport was “the pot that calls the black kettle.”
“No country has ignored the Olympic Charter mandate to keep politics out of sport more than China,” Cha, who teaches at Georgetown University, wrote in an essay last week for the Center for strategic and international studies.
“Just as the world would like the Olympics to be without politics, as George Orwell once wrote: ‘Sport is war minus shooting.'”
AP Sports Writer Stephen Wade reported for The Associated Press from Beijing for 2½ years in the run-up to and follow-up to the 2008 Olympics.
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