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2008 Beijing Olympics vs.2022: This time, there are no lofty promises

China's rise on the international stage was evident at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. The International Olympic Committee awarded those Games to China. Chinese politicians also suggested that the Olympics might improve human rights.

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2008 Beijing Olympics vs.2022: This time, there are no lofty promises

This time, the Beijing Winter Olympics will open in less than a week despite a pandemic that has lasted two years.

The Games serve as a reminder of China’s rise but also its disregard of civil liberties. This prompted a diplomatic boycott by the United States. They have called China’s internment at least 1,000,000 Uyghurs genocide.

Rights groups have documented forced labor and mass detention, which China calls "the lie of the century."

China seems to be less concerned about international scrutiny now that it has more political, military, and economic clout than it did 13 1/2 year ago. The pandemic has made China more powerful in controlling the Olympics, especially with the isolation and "bubble" of journalists who are not part of the Chinese population.

"There's nothing that can be 'proved' at this point. 2008 was a coming out' party, and all this does is confirm what you've known for the past decade," Amanda Shuman (University of Freiburg) wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

She stated that "If anything, there is a lot less pressure in 2008." "The Chinese government is well aware that it has the global economic advantage to do what it wants."

When it gave China the Games for the second time, the IOC was faced with few choices. Six potential European candidates, including Sweden and Norway, were rejected by the IOC for cost or political reasons. In referendums, voters in Germany and Switzerland voted no.

In a close vote of 44-40, IOC members chose Beijing over Almaty (Kazakhstan) in the final vote. After the IOC claimed that there was an electronic glitch during the first vote, the result was achieved using paper ballots. Beijing hosts the Summer and Winter Games for the first time.

Thomas Bach, President of the IOC, called Beijing a "safe option." China spent over $40 billion to organize the 2008 Olympics. To proceed, the authoritarian state does not need voter approval.

Concerning Kazakhstan, protests and unrest erupted this month as it was close to the Olympics.

China has been able to avoid oversight of human rights by the IOC. Cities must follow the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, beginning with the Paris Olympics 2024. China, however, was not subject to these rules when it was selected in 2015.

Ai Weiwei wrote an email to The Associated Press, stating that "when China hosts the Olympics again it is not longer the China back 2008". Ai was a part of the design team for Bird's Nest, hoping that it would symbolize a new openness. However, he regretted it later and called the Olympics China's fake smile.

Ai was imprisoned in China in 2011 on unspecified charges. On February 4, the Bird's Nest will host the second opening ceremony.

Ai said that China today has moved further away from democracy and freedom of the press, and that the reality has become more harsh.

These are just a few examples of China's toughening tone.

Beijing placed some restrictions on broadcasting from Tiananmen square in 2008 but allowed it; accepted to "protest zones" although access was denied repeatedly; and removed some reporting restrictions that were more than a year before the Games. It also de-blocked its blocked internet for journalists.

There will be less accommodation in 2022. Although internet access will still be available, journalists will have to stay in a "bubble" due to the pandemic. Chinese organizers warned foreign athletes that statements that are against Chinese laws could result in a penalty. A smartphone app that is widely used by reporters and athletes has serious security vulnerabilities according to an internet watchdog.

National Olympic committees have instructed staff and teams not to bring personal phones or laptops to Beijing. The IOC generates billions of dollars from broadcast rights and sponsorships. It rarely speaks out against Chinese organizers, who in reality are the Chinese government.

The changes that will affect 2022 started a month after 2008 Olympics, when the global financial crisis hit the world economies. China did better than the rest, which combined with the Olympics increased its confidence. This coincides also with the rise in confidence of Xi Jinping who was the chief of the 2008 Olympics and was appointed General Secretary of China Communist Party in 2012.

"Although Xi was responsible for 2008 Olympic Games, Winter Games are truly Xi’s Games," stated Xu Guoqi who teaches history at University of Hong Kong. He is also the author of "Olympic Dreams, China and Sports 1895-2008."

Mary Gallagher, the director of the Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, stated that the U.S.'s democracy and "poor pandemic response” have further empowered China.

Gallagher sent an email saying that "Right now, the multiple U.S. failings create momentum for renewed nationalalism and confidence in China." This is made even more effective by the Communist Party’s strict control of information. It can rain 'positive energie' down on China's happenings while only publishing negative accounts about other countries, particularly the U.S.

China complained that 2008's Olympics were being politicized by Tibetan rights protests. On a worldwide tour of the Olympic Torch Relay, violent protests were held in London and other places. Since then, the IOC has not attempted such a relay. The IOC's former President Jacques Rogge stated that the protests had put the Beijing Olympics into "crisis."

China claims that the Olympics are only about sport, which is a shield Bach uses to defend critics. China claims mixing politics with sports is against the Olympic Charter. However, China has been involved in politics since its boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Laura Luehrmann (China specialist at Wright State University) said via email that "sports and politics can mix." Politics is about how limited resources are distributed and used, most notably power and decision making, but also finances. Even if it is framed as a celebration of athletic accomplishment, sports is all about money and power.

Victor Cha served in the White House during President George W. Bush's tenure and is the author of "Beyond the Final Score - The Politics of Sport in Asia." He said that China complaining about other countries politicizing sports was "the kettle calling the kettle black."

In an essay written last week for Center for Strategic & International Studies, Cha, a Georgetown University professor, stated that "China is the only country that has not respected the Olympic Charter's mandate to keep sports out of politics more than any other."

"Much as the Olympics would love to be free of politics, George Orwell once said: "Sport is war without the shooting."

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