The Communist Olympics are a powerful political tool for China



It is nearly impossible to watch the Winter Olympics in person unless you are a credentialed member of the Communist Party of China.

Foreign spectators have long been banned.

Initially, organizers offered to sell tickets to members of the public in China, but later the rules were changed, apparently due to COVID-19.

So now most of the people in the stands will belong to the party. The CCP has also asked its members to act as “volunteers” at sports venues, adding another layer of security throughout the tournament.

This has the advantage of filtering out anyone who wants to use the Games to make a political point – including athletes.

“Beijing Olympics officials point out that you’ll be in trouble if you stand on the Olympic podium and pull your shirt revealing a ‘Free Tibet’ message, or that a snowboarder might express an opinion on the treatment of Uyghurs in the country. Xinjiang”, says BBC China correspondent Stephen McDonell.

He says that because some athletes have recently become outspoken about human rights issues, authorities “wouldn’t make these very public warnings unless they were concerned about what might happen.”

Thomas Bach, IOC President

Praise Mr. Xi

The strict rules against political protest seem to suit the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach.

When Mr Bach met President Xi Jinping at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in January, he praised China’s “efficiency, determination and dynamism” and offered to support his plan to ensure “a Winter Games smooth, safe and successful”. according to the public channel CGTN.

The International Olympic Committee has been criticized for its failure to support an investigation into the sudden disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai. She stepped down after taking to social media to make sexual assault allegations against a senior Communist Party official.

Ms. Peng has participated in three Olympic Games. The man who allegedly exploited her was leading the government’s task force with the IOC. After her disappearance, causing an international outcry, the Chinese propaganda service arranged for her to talk with Thomas Bach through a video link. She assured him that everything was fine and said there was no need to worry about his well-being.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

Disinformation campaign

The relationship between the Party and the CIO has been studied closely by Michal Caster, co-founder of a human rights group called Safeguard Defenders.

“It’s really sad to see that the IOC has allowed itself to become yet another vehicle for spreading misinformation. My organization has documented China’s use of coerced confessions, targeting domestic viewers and international audiences. When we saw these very scripted appearances by Peng Shuai during the video meeting with Thomas Bach, it seemed to us like a classic example of the same playbook,” says Mr. Castor.

He contrasts the IOC’s approach with that of the International Tennis Association, which he praised for choosing “not to give in to the pressures of an authoritarian state”.

In a statement shared with the media the International Tennis Federation said it “supports all women’s rights”. He added, “Our main concern remains Peng Shuai’s well-being. Peng’s allegations need to be addressed. We will continue to support all efforts to that end, both publicly and behind the scenes. »

However, the Tennis Federation has refrained from canceling tournaments in China as it does not want to “punish 1.4 billion people”.

Human rights groups gather to call for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in front of the Bank of China in Taipei. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

Political intent

On social media in China, Japan and elsewhere, many sports fans say they are frustrated with all the talk of protests and boycotts.

Let’s just enjoy the experience, they say, and don’t politicize the Olympics.

However, the Chinese hosts attach great political significance to the event and this is reflected in the slogans they present to the world. China’s official motto for the Games is: “Together for a shared future”.

An article that analyzed this slogan in a recent edition of Economist magazine said Western governments “read this as shorthand for the effort to create a world that accepts China’s autocratic form of government, ignores its human rights abuses, and rejects Western domination of the elaboration of global rules”.

For Michael Castor of Safeguard Defenders, the notion of “shared future for humanityrings hollow. “Just look at the domestic situation in China. The Communist Party under Xi Jinping is not interested in sharing anything. They are not interested in sharing power and so what that really means is a denial of the basic rights of its citizens,” he says.

Primorye Siberian Tiger (Photo by Yuri Smityuk/TASS)

Year of the Tiger

In a speech to mark the start of the Chinese New Year in February, President Xi said the Chinese people are fully prepared to stage a “streamlined, safe and splendid” gathering for the world with the Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing winter 2022.

The Chinese newspaper Global Times noted that in his speech, Xi Jinping also said that order in Hong Kong has been restored, “and more efforts have been made to fight the secessionist forces and facilitate national reunification”.

It’s a clear reference to his plan to reunite the self-governing island of Taiwan with the People’s Republic of China – peacefully if possible, but by force if necessary.

Taiwan’s Olympic contingent of 15 athletes will not participate in the opening or closing ceremonies of the Games, fearing that Beijing could use these events to assert its jurisdiction over the island.

Viewers are unlikely to mourn their absence, nor worry about diplomatic boycotts from various countries.

However, a calm and smooth Games that appeals to an international audience serves China’s goals well. This proves that the society is tightly controlled and the CCP remains in control, unchallenged.

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Duncan Bartlett is the editor of Asian Affairs magazine and a frequent contributor to Japan Forward. He is a research associate at SOAS China Institute, University of London and currently teaches diplomacy and international relations on the Economist Executive Education course, A New Global Order.

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