Looking back to look ahead
Fourteen years ago, the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics was critical for Chinese leaders to signal to audiences at home and abroad that China had arrived on the world stage as a powerful, respected global player. With the active participation of the international community, the lavishly produced $8 billion-coming out party conveniently masked past and ongoing human rights abuses. Under the slogan “One World, One Dream,” along with pledges of a green Olympics, a high-technology Olympics, and a people’s Olympics, the Chinese authorities had also promised to use the Games as an opportunity to improve the country’s human rights situation.
In the final lead up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, one thing is clear: this is not the world of 2008. The Xi Jinping-led regime has vastly deepened political and ideological control of the people. The draconian lockdowns in various cities in order to achieve “zero-COVID” are inflicting enormous human suffering and exacerbating the economic downturn. And the global pushback on China’s aggressive wolf warrior diplomacy and coercion abroad and trampling on rights at home is mounting.
In 2008, the international community perhaps believed that it could use Chinese authorities’ desire to maintain face and national pride as leverage to press for liberalization and openness. Today, that leverage no longer exists. Emboldened by the country’s economic clout and fueled by Xi Jinping’s grand aspiration for “national rejuvenation,” the regime has become impervious to international condemnation of its gross human rights abuses.
“In other words, the regime no longer cares about face. The international community is confronted with the true face of human rights with ‘Chinese characteristics,’” said Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China. “What has become clear is that Chinese leaders are pursuing a strategy of ‘shamelessness will make you rival-less’ (人不要脸，天下无敌). The key questions now are what has the international community learned since 2008 and how will it respond more effectively?”
Inconvenient facts for all
On the eve of the second Olympics in China, the contrast between the core aim of the event—“promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity” (Olympic Charter, “Fundamental Principles of Olympism,” Para. 2)—and what the regime of the Communist Party of China (CPC) is doing could not be starker.
Under Xi Jinping, the Chinese government’s blatant violations of rights protected by international human rights law and China’s own constitution are egregious and innumerable—and designed to crush human dignity and the human spirit.
It is a regime that is perpetrating mass crimes against Uyghur and other ethnic Muslims in the Xinjiang region by interning at least one million, systematically stripping them of their religious and cultural rights, and forcibly sterilizing the women. And it is continuing a policy of aggressive Sinicization in Tibet intended to destroy its culture and strangle religious freedom.
It is a regime that openly flouts an international treaty (the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration) by demolishing a once-vibrant civil society in Hong Kong: it has obliterated political opposition by imprisoning democratic legislators and by rigging its electoral system to allow only “patriots” in the legislature; it has muzzled a free press by force and by threat; it has hounded the rights defense bar into silence; it has compelled the closure of civil society groups and independent labor unions; it is attempting to erase memories of June Fourth by removing memorials to its victims; and it is jailing and prosecuting individuals for simply exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly.
Even as it continues its relentless demolition of the rights and freedoms of the Hong Kong people, shedding any pretense of pursuing the “one country, two systems” principle in regard to Hong Kong, Beijing audaciously insists—defying all facts—that it has established “democracy” in the city. The Chinese authorities responded furiously to a recent resolution by the European Parliament urging sanctions against mainland Chinese and Hong Kong officials for the rights deterioration in Hong Kong, calling the resolution “nothing more than a piece of rubbish paper” and warning EU parliamentarians “not to shoot themselves in the foot.”
Human tragedy under an inhumane regime
Beyond the massive violations that have captured global attention and triggered worldwide condemnations are the numerous individual cases of suppression that demonstrate the brutality and intolerance of the regime toward those who think independently, speak out against injustice, or dare to find ways to help build a more just society. The case of Guo Feixiong (aka Yang Maodong), a well-known rights advocate, in particular, tragically illustrates the inhumanity of the regime: the authorities blocked him from leaving China in 2021—when he was a free man—to visit his ailing wife and children in the United States and disappeared him in December; they then arrested him on January 12, 2022 on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power,” two days after his wife died of cancer in Maryland. The regime demonstrated once again its cruel inhumanity and criminalized Guo’s desperate plea to reunite with his family.
Among the endless repression of democracy and reform advocates and rights lawyers and activists, diverse individuals whom the regime is determined to silence are:
China’s rules of the game
One critic has called China “the most ill-advised venue for the games since Adolf Hitler brought the 1936 Olympics to Berlin.” By awarding the 2022 Winter Olympics to Beijing, the International Olympics Committee has failed in its responsibility to uphold the Olympian core value of celebrating the human spirit and is risking the safety of the world’s best athletes.
As China prepares to welcome world athletes to Beijing, its officials openly warn them that “any behavior or speeches that are . . . against Chinese laws and regulations” will be subjected to punishment and that “dedicated departments” would investigate athletes’ comments at the Games. Athletes will be entering a sealed-off environment of pervasive surveillance, most likely also bringing with them the advice from their own governments to not speak or act out of turn.
“If you’re playing by China’s rules, you—and that includes all the Olympic sponsors and all the foreign companies doing business in China—need to self-censor (or apologize!) and be complicit in the regime’s human rights abuses.” said Hom.
“The ‘One World, One Dream’ slogan of the 2008 Beijing Olympics was the beginning of ‘a world according to China’ that the international community accepted to advance their perceived economic interests. It is time to wake up and confront the true face of the CPC regime and the consequences of decades of appeasement and uncritical ‘engagement.’ As the international community is increasingly realizing in a radically reconfiguring landscape; we cannot continue with business as usual any longer,” said Hom.
A number of concrete actions have been advanced by diverse stakeholders, including government sanctions, diplomatic boycott by more countries, and media taking the opportunity to cover the broader picture beyond the closed circuit of the Olympics.
HRIC urges athletes to use their various platforms when possible to simply express their support for fundamental rights protected under international law and China’s constitution. We urge athletes, governments, corporations, broadcasters, and individuals around the world to at the very least refuse self-censorship. One way to honor the Olympic spirit and human dignity is to send support messages to imprisoned or detained Chinese human rights defenders.
A Bird’s Eye View
From Athletes and Broadcasters
NGO Joint Statements