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Date: 30 November 2021 Author: Patryk Szczotka
Beijing Winter Olympics and the Shadow of a Political Boycott
Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is the host of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games. It has thus become the first city ever to host both editions of this international event. The sports feast, which is scheduled to take place at the beginning of 2022, is not free from political controversy, just like the summer Games in 2008.
On July 8, 2021, the European Parliament called for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics. A resolution passed that day called to “decline invitations for government representatives and diplomats to attend the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics unless the Chinese Government demonstrates a verifiable improvement in the human rights situation in Hong Kong, the Xinjiang Uyghur Region, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and elsewhere in China.”[i] The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), which gathers over 100 MPs from 19 countries, issued the following statement as part of a broader legislative campaign on the Olympics: “We, the Co-Chairs of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, are of the shared belief that this cannot be reconciled with holding the Games in a country whose government stands credibly accused of perpetrating atrocity crimes against its own population. To do so discredit the ethos of the Olympic movement and undermines its purpose.”[ii] British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said in an interview with Sky News television that his participation in the event is “unlikely.”[iii] In February this year, the Canadian House of Commons passed a resolution calling on the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Olympics from Beijing.[iv] All these developments are a sign of growing political polarization over human rights issues in China.
The cases of reluctance towards Beijing as the host of the Winter Games are being commented on by the Chinese media. In February 2021, Hu Xinjin, editor of the government-owned Global Times, claimed that “China, as the host country, will do the righteous thing by sanctioning any country that thwarts the Beijing Winter Olympics. I believe by then the Chinese people will back their government and the people across the world will support China to punish the evil forces who turn the Olympics into a geopolitical stage.”[v] After US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that their countries may limit their official presence at the Games[vi], the Global Times learned that “as the host country of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, China never plans to invite US and Western politicians who hype the ‘boycott’ topic to attend the Games”[vii] because it is not in line with the policy of preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
Distrust or evident reluctance towards the 2022 Winter Olympics is perceived by the Chinese media as an attempted attack on the image of the PRC, as well as the use of the Games to advance various political interests. History shows, however[viii], that this sporting event is inseparable from international relations while boycotting it is not uncommon. The declarations and actions of politicians in the widely understood Western world will certainly play their part in creating the political image of the Beijing Games. Yet, the coronavirus and the PRC’s restrictive ways of fighting the pandemic remain no less of a challenge to the 2022 sporting event. Even faced with a boycott, the event could still become a major domestic triumph for the government in Beijing. Successful Games will highlight the efficiency of the Communist Party in organizing world-class events and will allow it to claim victory[ix] in the fight against coronavirus.
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