Source: Daniel Jia
The 2022 Winter Olympics have just begun in Beijing.
It’s China’s second opportunity to export its ideology since the 2008 Summer Olympics. It’s happening despite China’s harsh repression of its ethnic minorities, including the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, which has been condemned by many countries as genocide. Nevertheless, all but 14 countries (plus North Korea) appear to be responsive to the IOC’s “Sports without political interference” initiative in sending delegations and athletes to Beijing. Little do they know, the Chinese government uses its hosting of the Olympics as a propaganda tool precisely to silence this criticism of its human rights record.
The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics is like the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Each event is being used to showcase the host country’s glamour and fearful power. Although the connection between applauding Nazi Germany’s Olympic glory by the whole world and the subsequent Nazi aggression that followed remains subject to debate, it seems there’s little doubt that attending the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will ultimately harm the attendees, and probably endanger the world.
For the attendees, one known risk is the fact that China is a police state. It will violate personal privacy and freedom of speech even on foreign outsiders. Citizen Lab, the University of Toronto’s research and strategic policy unit, has just issued a warning that an application program, which is authorized by the Beijing Winter Olympics Organizing Committee and must be used by all Winter Olympics participants, contains many security traps. Personal data such as passport numbers can be accessed by third parties; contents of communications can be monitored and censored, and those are just some features. China passed an expanded national security law a year ago, and anyone deemed to have violated the law, regardless of nationality or place of residence, could be punished under the law. The danger of this law is that its vague definition of illegality makes it possible for almost anyone to be punished for certain actions, regardless of nationality or physical location.
Another known risk is the restrictions on freedom of movement under China’s current COVID-19 control measures, known as the “Zero Covid Policy.” People living outside of China would think China has impressively controlled the pandemic if one looks at only the daily pandemic case figures released by China. But this is most likely an illusion. On the one hand, China’s testing methodology has been fatally flawed with extremely low precision and accuracy, and internal personnel of testing institutions has disclosed that samples collected are often discarded without being analyzed. Another form of dishonesty that makes these data suspect comes as localities routinely set an arbitrary upper limit for positive cases.
Conversely, China’s “Zero Covid Policy” means that once “sporadic” positive cases of infection are identified, the entire community, even those with little connection to the infected will be placed under a savage mandatory quarantine, which has not been seen elsewhere in the world. Recently, diplomats from the U.S. have requested to leave their posts in China over concerns that such strict measures could jeopardize the freedom and safety of themselves and their families.
In addition to these risks already well recognized, participating in the Beijing Winter Olympics also carries various unpredictable but highly probable dangers to outsiders.
One is that foreign participants might be subjecting themselves to China’s retaliation act. China has reportedly been using COVID tests as tools for political purposes. One of China’s largest nationwide COVID testing institutions, KingMed Diagnostics, for instance, has been accused of having operations suspected of speeding up the spread of the COVID-19 virus in its testing process, as income from COVID testing has been KingMed’s main revenue since the pandemic outbreak. Other individuals and institutions have been accused of making individuals “test positive” as a coercive tool to benefit their own interests. Furthermore, relations between China and numerous countries are deteriorating rapidly, and the Chinese government has long been known for its practice of using foreign citizens as hostages when addressing international issues (the most recent example being China taking three Canadian hostages in retaliation for Canada, which was involved in the extradition proceedings of the notorious executive of Huawei, Meng Wanzhou). China’s retaliation against attendees from countries deemed as hostile by China on the grounds of “COVID infection” is a high probability. As of Jan. 29, among the 246 Canadians who arrived at China’s doorstep for the Winter Olympics, five were handed a positive COVID test. This positive rate is twice as high as the overall positive rate of all foreign attendees who have arrived in China, and hundreds of times higher than that for the ordinary Chinese population.
Is Canada again being punished?
The second unpredictable, but highly probable, risk is closely related to the first one. That is, any participating country could become the scapegoat for the resurgence of the COVID infection in China after the Olympics are over.
Since the first day of the outbreak, China has been pointing finger at a series of “culprits” for the pandemic around the world. These “guilty” ones include countries such as Italy and the U.S., creatures such as bats and seafood, and objects such as cold chain supply containers and overseas parcels. At present, while the latest variant of the coronavirus, omicron, is spreading rapidly around the world, China’s astonishingly low infection numbers are most likely the result of artificially lowered numbers. The attendees from abroad will just give the Chinese government a perfect opportunity to revise its highly suspicious pandemic numbers. Once the Winter Olympics is over, China might release a new set of cases showing a striking surge in COVID infections, and blame those countries that happen to be on a pre-drawn list of retaliation for the surge. And, it is not surreal to imagine China even making legal claims for pandemic damage to those targeted countries on this ground.
There is a yet more dire scenario as these Olympics progress: A second round of the pandemic. Two years ago, when the COVID-19 was largely a mere local outbreak in China and completely unknown to the rest of the world, China released thousands of Chinese citizens abroad while tightly locking down the internal flow of people around the country, leading to the onset of the current global pandemic. China, if it wishes, could use the Winter Olympics to initiate the second round of the “world pandemic,” the foreign Olympics attendees being used as “voluntary” carriers this time around. This is very speculative, and perhaps far-fetched, but China has shown that it is capable of anything.
So far the exact number of foreign attendees to the Beijing Winter Olympics is still unavailable. Based on the number of participants in the 2018 Winter Games and the 2022 Summer Olympics, the number of foreign participants in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics could be around 30,000. Days after the conclusion of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, while the world is so optimistic with the vision that the milder mutated virus omicron will bring an end to the current pandemic, these 30,000 individuals will land in their respective home countries, with a great danger of carrying, God forbid, outbreak elements they theoretically could have been contaminated with. What awaits the world if this scenario does materialize?
As the Beijing Winter Olympics is unveiled, the world continues facing a choice similar to that in 1936: participate or boycott. The success of the 1936 Berlin Olympics convinced the Nazi regime that no one in the world could resist the rich and powerful charm it displayed, and no one would dare to confront its upcoming (but yet to be known to the rest of the world) plans for the world, including the Holocaust of the Jews. China today is one step further along than Nazi Germany in 1936 in that it has already shown the world its complete disregard of its One-China-Two-System promise regarding Hong Kong’s autonomy status which is a binding accord registered at the United Nations, as well as its ambitious claims to the South China Sea, its continued military threat to Taiwan, and its relentless repression of its Uyghur minority peoples. The world does not need to wait to see the threat materialize as with Nazi Germany, the threats are already here, in front of the world.
What the world should do, then? At the government level, extra precaution must be taken when greeting attendees back home from the Beijing Olympics, with an extended quarantine period if deemed necessary, for example. As ordinary people, several simple actions can be taken to make your voice be heard: join the “Boycott-Beijing-Olympics” rallies, and refuse to buy Made-in-China products with likely links to forced labor practices.
It is honorable to adhere to the Olympics’ core spirit of “sports without political interference.” However, when this noble belief is used by evil forces as a shield to evade justice and punishment, nothing else is more justifiable than protecting the world from imminent evil, which can only be deterred with resolve and actions.