By Elaine Dunn
The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing opened with great fanfare. It was China’s debut on the world stage, an opportunity to showcase its history, culture and its athletes to a global audience. Fast forward to the 2022 Winter Olympics. Once again, Beijing will be the venue. However, circumstances are quite different.
Back in 2008, the world was welcoming to a China in ascendency and the world was in awe of the impressively choreographed opening ceremony.
However, in the ensuing 11.5 years, China had lost much luster. It appears the world may be finally standing up to China’s abuse of human rights and other issues.
By the end of 2020, China is at odds with the U.S. and many western countries over its treatment of the Uighurs and Tibetans, and its narrative over the coronavirus pandemic. Its military build-up in the South China Sea aggravates its Asian neighbors. Its aggressive and repressive policies over Hong Kong are denounced by the free world. In fact, the UK had recently declared China in “clear breach” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration that guaranteed Hong Kong autonomy until 2047.
Opposition from the international community to restrict China’s “disdain” for world opinion is growing. At last count, 160 countries had signed and presented a petition to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to revoke Beijing’s hosting of the 2022 Winter Olympics. A September 2020 editorial in the Washington Post stated, “The world must ask whether China, slowly strangling an entire people, has the moral standing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. We think not.”
A coalition of human rights advocates have been calling on the IOC for the 2022 Winter Olympics to be moved out of China, stating that the 2008 games “did not help the country’s human rights record.”
The IOC had been accused by various groups as turning a blind eye to “the widespread and systematic human rights violations” committed by the communist Chinese authorities while hiding behind the excuse it does not want to cross the line between sport and politics. It defends its choice of China’s hosting role because it believes in “the separation between sport and politics.” Not surprisingly, China agrees, stating that “so-called human rights issues …an attempt to put pressure on the Chinese side …”
The British Foreign Secretary stated in October 2020: “The concern over what’s happening with the Uighurs is not something we can turn away from. Let’s consider, in the rounds, what further action we can take.” The UK Parliament has had a number of debates over the atrocities the CCP carried out on its own citizens, including organ harvesting of political prisoners. MP Chris Evans stated emphatically, “… we want a positive relationship with China, but we will always act to uphold our values, our interests, and our national security.”
Germany, on behalf of 39 countries including the U.S. UK, Japan, and EU members, called out Beijing’s treatment of the Uighurs during a recent UN Human Rights Council meeting.
Even Turkey chimed in. “As a country having ethnic, religious and cultural ties with the Uyghur Turks, we have been particularly alarmed by the recently published reports and news on human rights practices against the Uyghur Turks and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang,” its ambassador said.
In addition to the human rights issue, security for participants have also been brought up.
The Canadian Olympic Committee said last month it cannot ensure the safety of Canadian athletes to Beijing’s Winter Olympics citing China practices “hostage diplomacy.” (There are two Canadians abducted and held in China since December 2018 in retaliation for Canada’s detention of Huawei s CFO in Vancouver.)
An Australian senator told ABC Australia last November that he supported a boycott of the games because of security concerns of participants. Australians politicians encouraged its athletes to boycott the games lest they “become unwilling and unintended participants” in communist Chinese propaganda.
India is also considering following the Australian approach. As for Japan, who is furious over China’s irresponsible and unconscionable initial response to the coronavirus outbreak that essentially caused Japan’s Tokyo Summer Olympics to be postponed, may see a boycott as good retaliation.
Of course Beijing is pushing back. Following is an excerpt from the Dec. 23 China Daily editorial:
The attempt to politicize the sporting event for the purpose of shaming and blaming China on human rights issues is nothing new … The mixing of sports and politics goes against the trend of the times and tramples on the Olympic spirit that promotes mutual understanding, solidarity and fair play. Not to mention the fact that "the IOC has neither the mandate nor the capability to change the laws or the political system of a sovereign country” … The call for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics is especially deplorable given how painstakingly China has been working to prepare for the event in the face of the onslaught of the novel coronavirus pandemic, with progress made in not only venue construction, but also global recruitment of volunteers and the appeals for medal, torch and apparel designs.
The Olympic Games are not about politics, but about bringing together the world's best athletes from all members of the IOC family in a peaceful sporting competition and helping them realize their Olympic dreams. Any efforts to try to dash that dream using whatever excuse is ill-intentioned, and must be rejected and condemned.
The 2022 Winter Olympics are slated to begin Feb. 4, a good 13 months away. Beijing is pushing ahead with its preparations, which include a committee looking into and assessing cybersecurity issues and plans, and how to integrate systems with the numerous facilities to prevent targeted attacks.
But, the international community is no longer satisfied with verbal “outrage” of China’s behaviour around the world.
Whether Beijing will be able to hang on to its hosting role or will its tightened controls over civil society and blatant disregard for human rights derail it? We shall see.
Outdoor sign on the streets of Beijing
Bing Dwen Dwen (冰墩墩) panda is the official mascot