Ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics to be held in Beijing and neighboring cities, China is working overtime to make sure the event is a success.
Beijing has budgeted $ 3.1 billion for the reconstruction and construction of new sites and has spent an additional $ 8.2 billion yuan on a high-speed railway connecting Beijing with another host city, Zhangjiakou.
Under a plan to enthuse the population for the event, at least 2,000 schools have been instructed to include winter sports in their curriculum by the end of the year, and a giant clock in Beijing counts the time remaining before the Games start. The official slogan is: Joyful meeting on ice and clear snow.
But this joyous meeting is increasingly under threat as calls for a boycott of the event become louder. Earlier this month UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country would not rule out a boycott, adding that there comes a point when it is not possible to separate sport from diplomacy and politics.
Last month more than 160 human rights groups sent a letter to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach calling for the Games to be moved from China on the basis of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and Inner Mongolia. Hong Kong activists like Joshua Wong are lobbying countries like Canada, a leading contender in the Winter Games, to boycott the case.
A U.S. senator from Florida, Rick Scott, has called on the IOC to stand by Beijing as it did when the committee banned apartheid in South Africa from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In August, Ian Duncan Smith, a member of the UK Interparliamentary Alliance in China with politicians from 16 countries and representatives from the European Parliament, called on the UK government to boycott the Olympics, describing China as dictatorial, aggressive [and] intolerant.
For Beijing, which would be the first city to host the Summer and Winter Games, the 2022 Olympics represent a new level of prestige on the international stage an additional step forward from the 2008 event that marked China’s entry into the world stage as an economy . Fewer countries can afford to compete or organize the event effectively.
For China, the 2008 Summer Olympics were their first celebration, said Jung Woo Lee, a lecturer in sports and leisure policy at the University of Edinburgh. The 2022 Winter Olympics is likely to be a cultural spectacle which declares that China is not only a powerhouse but also a magnet of attractive global culture and high-tech industry, he said.
The Winter Games exclusivity makes a possible boycott even more threatening. Similar calls were made ahead of the 2008 Olympics, citing Tibetan repression by Chinas and other abuses. A boycott never materialized, but the impact was likely to have been minimal, observers say.
Too many countries would still have participated in 2008, said Alan Bairner, a professor of sports and social theory at Loughborough University. Unlike the Summer Games which involve so many countries economically dependent on China, the big Winter Olympics players are fewer and if they decide to boycott there will not be much left.
The threat of a boycott comes as relations between China and some of the major players in the Winter Olympics are at their worst point in decades. China has held two Canadians in custody for nearly two years in what many believe to be revenge for the arrest of Ottawa’s Huawei chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, at the request of the US.
A boycott seems more likely against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. Beijing’s ties with other countries from the US to Australia and the UK, fighting to contain the virus that some blame Beijing for allowing the spread, have deteriorated.
However Beijing has so far given up on protests. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said last month: By linking the so-called human rights issue to the Winter Olympics in an effort to put pressure on China, some organizations have made the mistake of politicizing sporting events.
But observers say momentum is building. Distrust of China is stronger than it was before the 2008 Olympics, an event some hoped would encourage the fast-growing country to liberalize the way the 1988 Games led to political reform and the gradual introduction of democracy in South Korea at the time. under a military dictatorship.
By the time the Beijing Olympics 2008, China had gradually become freer in many aspects of civil society, so the idea of pushing China to liberalize by giving it the opportunity to host the Olympics was an idea that many peoples thought had real potential, said Yaqiu Wang, China researcher for Human Rights Watch.
This approach did not work. Human rights abuses since Xi Jinping came to power have gone significantly worse and China is not responding to sentences and calls for change, she said. All of this has made boycotting an approach that is gaining more and more traction.
Critics and human rights defenders say that one day the international community will regret giving the event to Beijing, whose policies of mass exile and oppression of Muslim minorities have been exposed in recent years to raise alarm.
Jules Boykoff, professor in the department of politics and government at Pacific University in Oregon, noted comparisons to the 1936 Berlin Olympics when Hitler used the event to display Nazi propaganda.
He said: In a way it could be argued that there were fewer unknowns about China in 2015 when the IOC chose Beijing to host the 2022 Olympics than when the IOC chose Berlin to host the 1936 Olympics.
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