The Winter Olympics, set to begin a year from now, will offer China a chance to show off its epidemic controls, dazzle with a grand show, and clinch a media victory in the global arena, but concern for human rights and the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic overshadow the games.
Organizers promise a “joyous rendezvous on pure ice and snow” that will begin on February 4, 2022. Artificial dust is likely to be needed to help cover the tracks carved out of the arid brown mountains of northwest Beijing.
“China will want the Olympics to present a new narrative about opening the country to the world again,” said Rana Mitter, who teaches Chinese history and politics at the University of Oxford.
Under President Xi Jinping, China has tightened control over civil society and cracked down on dissent, as its economy rebounds strongly from the economic crisis and Beijing reasserts itself on the world stage.
Human rights groups and some Western politicians have condemned China’s hosting of the games, pointing to Beijing’s policies in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has delayed the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, is unlikely to be fully under control worldwide by February next year, according to health experts.
However, China has quelled most of the outbreaks within its borders, keeping the number of new cases low.
China’s borders are currently closed to most foreigners, and it is not yet clear how Beijing will handle visiting athletes and delegations. The organizing committee for the Olympics did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wang Huiyao, chairman of the Center for China and Globalization, a think tank in Beijing, said that demonstrating control over the virus while offering global entertainment would help other countries see beyond ideological differences and polish the image of China.
“People will see that it does not matter. It is the same black cat as white cat, as long as it hunts mice,” Wang said, using a phrase attributed to Deng Xiaoping, the former Chinese leader who guided China’s transformation into an economic powerhouse.
The first Olympic Games in Beijing, the 2008 Summer Games, demonstrated China’s ability to put on a show on an unprecedented scale. Some facilities built for 2008, such as the Bird’s Nest Stadium, will be reused.
Others have been rebuilt near the city of Zhangjiakou in Hebei province, connected to Beijing by high-speed rail.
Shortly after President Xi visited the facilities in January, the authorities promised that “they would not disappoint the great confidence and expectations of the Party and the people.”
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