Xi Jinping had yet to take power when the bidding process for the 2022 Winter Olympics formally began a decade ago. Three years later, when Beijing beat Almaty for hosting rights in 2015 by just four votes, it still appeared that Xi would be a “normal” Chinese president who would preside over the Games as his second and final term came to an end.
In the intervening seven years, however, Xi transformed Chinese politics and international geopolitics. He is widely expected to face an unprecedented third term as head of the Chinese Communist Party, state and army at a congress likely to convene in October or November.
Consequently, Friday’s Olympics opening ceremony is not the beginning of the end of his political career, but rather the beginning of a new chapter for China’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong.
While the Xi administration’s controversial policies in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic, have made the Games much more risky than expected, Chinese officials and analysts also believe the opportunity provides an opportunity to show what they claim their country’s superior management system, especially compared to the US.
The Chinese government has detained more than 1 million Muslim Uyghurs since the start of a mass campaign of repression in Xinjiang in 2017 and crushed Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement with national security legislation enforced in the area three years later.
Both sparked condemnation that led to human rights activists and some U.S. lawmakers calling the Games the “genocide Olympics,” with Washington and some of its allies carrying out a diplomatic boycott.
“China wanted to strengthen its global influence and international prestige by hosting the Olympics, and also to show the Chinese people that it has become one of the world’s great powers,” said Shi Yinhong, a Beijing academic who Chinese government advises on foreign policy. issues.
“China was in a very different situation when it offered to host the Winter Olympics than it is now, especially with Covid and the overall weakening in US-China relations,” he added. “But China has no choice but to house them well. There was no way to withdraw. “
In private, Chinese officials said they were not concerned about any embarrassment from stage protests by foreign athletes. Domestic TV supply will be broadcast with a slight time delay so that it can be cut off before it reaches Chinese viewers. Officials were also confident that the Games would shed a much brighter spotlight on their success in the fight against Covid than on human rights controversies.
The Games are held in a “bubble” designed to contain any items brought into the country by overseas participants. Chinese athletes, officials and other staff entering the bubble will also have to serve a long quarantine before being allowed to return home.
Covid-related deaths in the US are likely to exceed 900,000 during the Olympics – and then exceed the 1 million mark when China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, convenes its annual session next month. China, on the other hand, recorded fewer than 4,700 Covid deaths, even though the virus first broke out in Wuhan in January 2020.
“The control of the epidemic shows the superiority of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics,” said Wang Yiwei, who teaches international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. “China has adopted a strict zero-tolerance attitude towards Covid, because in China we put people’s lives first.”
Unlike the Summer Games, which Beijing astonishingly hosted in 2008, an Olympic Winter Games were – and remain – an improper event for Xi to seize as a vehicle for China’s economic and other achievements during its first 10 years. to glorify in power. In contrast to its repeated success at the Summer Olympics, China won only the top 10 medals at one winter event: Vancouver 2010, when its 94-member team won 11 medals.
This year, China will hire 171 athletes and has hired more than 50 foreign coaches while trying to top its endpoint in Canada 12 years ago. But Mark Dreyer, a Beijing-based analyst who has written a book on China’s sports ambitions, noted that Xi has downplayed the importance of this month’s medal count.
Dreyer said that China’s original campaign to host the Games was probably intended as “a draft bid for 2026 or even 2030, because it took them several times before they won 2008”.
“They played the system pretty well at the summer games in terms of focusing on the less competitive sports and spending a lot of money to bring in foreign coaches,” Dreyer added. “There are only about 100 elite-level athletes who do sliding sports [such as luge and bobsledding] so, with China’s resources, it feels like it can catch up fast. It is realistic that China could become a top five [Winter Games] nation eight or 12 years from now. ”
Additional post by Emma Zhou in Beijing
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