There are plenty of good reasons why Americans are largely tuning out from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
There’s the fatigue factor, as the “2020 Tokyo Summer Games” took place just a few months ago, in Summer 2021—having been delayed for a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s the anticlimactic visuals of once-again empty Olympic stadiums, leaving no live audience for a TV viewer to relate with, as magnificent athletes perform their astounding feats.
But more than anything, the Beijing Games are simply creepy and sad.
Let’s start with the obvious: the atrocities being committed against the Uyghur Muslims. A number of countries, including the U.S., are staging a diplomatic boycott of the Games to protest China’s staggering human rights violations.
The Chinese Communist Party’s response was an opening ceremony that stressed China’s multi-ethnic harmony, capped off with a Uyghur skier lighting the Olympic torch—before she was promptly hustled offstage. (China’s choice of torch-bearer hearkens back to Hitler’s propaganda use of a “token Jew” in the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics.)
After World War II, China’s treatment of the Uyghurs is the kind of thing we swore we would not enable, nor even tolerate. Never Trump conservative Charlie Sykes mocked hollow invocations of the “Never Again” motto by joking that such a promise was essentially void if “there are Olympic games and big TV contracts and it’s China.”
China’s economic power leaves us little choice but to tolerate its repressive regime, but that leaves a bit of a conundrum for some of America’s largest “woke” corporations.
Consider the hypocrisy that CNN’s Jake Tapper pointed out this Sunday on State of The Union: “Coca-Cola last year criticized a restrictive new voting rights law in Georgia. [But] Coca-Cola has not spoken out about China’s human rights abuses, even as Coca-Cola co-sponsors the Olympic games in Beijing, along with many other major American companies.”
Before international athletes even arrived in the country, China sought to crush the opportunity for any protests. As The New York Times reported, “Chinese authorities have detained activists in their homes and sent others to jail. Censors have shut down the social media accounts of prominent critics. Officials have warned Olympians that protest could bring prosecution.”
Perhaps this is why Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi felt compelled to warn American athletes not to speak out against China’s sins?
If fear weren’t enough of a deterrent, China's aggressive zero-COVID strategy was a convenient excuse to put tens of thousands of their own citizens in “restrictive lockdowns.” Of course, COVID is also being used to justify spying on foreign athletes and limiting journalists’ ability to report unfettered. (Consider the Dutch reporter who was dragged away during a broadcast, ostensibly because he wasn’t showing visuals the Chinese government had staged inside the stadium.)
The Winter Olympics is also an opportunity for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to assist China in gaslighting us by forcing tennis star Peng Shuai to act as though she never accused a high-ranking Chinese Communist official of sexual assault.
But it’s not just Chinese citizens and athletes or foreign reporters who are being mistreated and exploited. Foreign athletes are not immune from China’s abuse.
As The Guardian reports, “The Swedes have suggested that the conditions in the mountains are perilously cold. A Polish skater says she was living in fear in a Beijing isolation ward and has ‘cried until I have no more tears.’ The Finns have claimed an ice hockey player is being kept in Covid quarantine for no reason. And the Germans? They are frustrated that there is no hot food at the downhill skiing.”
If it feels like I am just relentlessly documenting a litany of examples to demonstrate the shitshow that this has become, it’s because I am. It’s also worth noting that in the absence of so many countries’ diplomatic delegations, Vladimir Putin’s presence stood out in the audience of opening ceremonies (where, at one point, he fell asleep), even as the world is on the brink of a war he might start.
Putin and Chinese leader-for-life Xi Jinping also met on Friday and signed a joint statement that warned NATO to stay away from Ukraine. The backdrop for this is Russia massing troops on the Ukrainian border—troops that might or might not cross that border before the Olympics end. (Recall that Russia invaded neighboring Georgia at the very start of the last Olympics hosted by Beijing—the 2008 Summer Games.)
A tyrannical regime is hosting the Olympics and we’re supposed to, what, sit back, drink a beer, and watch curling?
We are now involved in what will likely be a multi-generational struggle against a hostile regime with 1.4 billion citizens. Solving that geopolitical nightmare may be the most important project of the 21st century.
American companies and industries like Coca-Cola, Disney, the NBA, Nike—and Hollywood—must realize that this may well be the existential threat of our time. We are competing with an evil empire, and while it may not yet be time to declare the Chinese government our enemy, they most certainly are our adversary.
For a long time, there was a hope that we could get rich by doing business with China, while simultaneously helping to bring about Chinese democracy, or something akin to it. Today, the notion that free markets and economic prosperity might lead to political liberalization seems naive—at least, in the short term. In this new paradigm, it’s time for American corporations to put patriotism over profit. And if they refuse to, that is where we should focus our calls for boycotts.
If it wasn’t already obvious, the atrocities and outrages categorized above demonstrate that we must begin to view China in a similar capacity to the way we viewed the Soviet Union during the Cold War. They are, at best, competitors, who do not share our worldview, interests, or values.
It’s time to get serious. It’s time to quit playing games.