It should be evident to all paying attention that Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics will proceed as planned. Forget the meager protests against China’s cruel and immoral treatment of its own. The authoritarian regime appears to be on the verge of another power-play victory.
Also, never mind the plight of China’s Uyghur Muslims, underground Christian churches, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners, and all the other groups the Beijing government labels a political threat. They’re of no lasting concern to the international elite, who are quick to issue public condemnations and slow when it comes to follow-up.
China’s political power
China’s political power — a byproduct of its enormous economic strength — is just too much to counter. And Beijing’s despotic leaders know this well.
When the International Olympic Committee awarded Beijing the 2008 Summer Olympics, it promised the Games could improve human rights and civil liberties in China.
There is no such lofty talk this time with Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics — the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Games — opening in less than two months on February 4.
Instead, there are some calls for governments to boycott Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics, with 3,000 athletes, sponsors, and broadcasters being lobbied by rights groups representing minorities and those otherwise suppressed across China. In a muted response, Australia and the U.S. announced a diplomatic boycott of the Games to protest human rights abuses.
IOC President Thomas Bach has repeatedly dodged questions about the propriety of holding the Games in China despite evidence of alleged genocide, vast surveillance, and crimes against humanity involving at least 1 million Uyghurs and other largely Muslim minorities. Tibet, a flashpoint in the run-up to 2008, remains one still, as does the organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners and other political prisoners.
“The big difference between the two Beijing Games is that in 2008 Beijing tried to please the world,” Xu Guoqi, a historian at the University of Hong Kong, said to The Associated Press. “In 2022, he does not care about what the rest of the world thinks about it.”
An expert on Chinese sports and the Olympics, Xu said Beijing in 2008 attempted to placate world opinion. “Now it tries its best to tell the world its intentions. If the world does not listen, so be it,” Xu wrote.
Xi Jinping is the most powerful general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party since Chairman Mao, but in 2008, he is also in charge of the Olympics.
For Olympic officials and aficionados, this includes the possibility that should the games be pulled from Beijing at this relatively late date, it could mean the collapse of the international Olympics movement.
That’s because as the games become ever more expensive to stage — and as citizen complaints in democratic nations about costs and inconvenience become louder — fewer cities are trying to land them. And that means that the Olympics are increasingly becoming the kind of circus that only authoritarian governments — answering only to themselves — are willing to stage.
Beijing 2022 and Berlin 1936: The parallels
There are some who see Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympic Games as akin to Berlin’s 1936 Olympic Games.
Moment, an American-Jewish publication produced in Cambridge, Massachusetts, takes on the Beijing-Berlin connection in its current edition. The piece, by former NPR religion reporter Tom Gjelten, is quite well done. It’s loaded with pertinent information.
Tom’s moral argument against Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics relies mostly on China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority. Tom wonders if China’s Uyghurs are analogous to Nazi-era Jews — who were already highly persecuted as Adolf Hitler scaled up his “final solution.”
Human rights advocates see a parallel between the muted response to China’s repression of the Uyghurs and others and America’s failure to challenge Nazi moves against the Jews in the 1930s, a time when the United States had deep political and economic interests in Germany.
Senior American officials, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, hoped a conciliatory approach to Hitler would encourage Germany to continue payments on its multibillion-dollar debt to U.S. creditors.
Wall Street bankers were heavily invested in German industry in the 1930s and wanted to protect their stakes much as they do today when it concerns China.
Major Hollywood studios were omitting movie references to Jewish mistreatment to satisfy Nazi censors and maintain access to the important German film audience, as does Hollywood today regarding China.
One lesson of those years was that it was a moral failure regarding competing interests that impeded an effective response to criminal horrors.
The plight of the Uyghur people and others who are suppressed in China today presents an opportunity to see whether the criminal horrors of yesterday are learned today.