Home LATEST NEWS The Beijing Games: propaganda and geopolitical tension

The Beijing Games: propaganda and geopolitical tension

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From non-governmental organization talked about Genocide Gamesevoking the fate reserved for the Uighurs, a Muslim and Turkish-speaking minority in Xinjiang, in the north-west of the country, on which damning reports have accumulated for four years.

They find shameful that we thus endorse, through sport, a regime that imprisons opponents, stifles freedom in Hong Kong, threatens Taiwan with invasion, monitors and regiments its population under a torrent of propaganda, with methods of surveillance unprecedented in the world. history of mankind.

A prison-like building.

Up to 1.8 million Uighurs are believed to be held in camps in China.

Photo: Getty Images / GREG BAKER

A movement of diplomatic boycott was followed by a few countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, which did not attend the opening ceremony, to protest against the state of rights and freedoms in the country organizer.

These reprisals seem light, if we compare them to what were, in the last century, the real boycotts (with complete withdrawal of the athletes), applied to the Olympic Games of Montreal 1976 (African countries), Moscow 1980 (Western countries) and Los Angeles 1984 (Soviet bloc countries).

The case serves as a reminder, however, that the politicization of the Olympics is nothing new.

2008-2022: two worlds

Beijing officially became the only city to hold a Winter Games after hosting a Summer Games. But the political and international background of 2022 in the Chinese capital is vastly different from that of 2008.

In 2008, it was the Games of an emerging China which, it was still thought, could gradually become more democratic with the arrival of a real middle class. A China that still wanted to smile at the rest of the world, to welcome it, to seduce it, which it really did at the time.

And this, even if – we tend to forget – 2008 in China was also the year of fierce repression in Tibet. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of people driven from their homes in previous years to accommodate the Olympic dream.

People in medical clothes wait at the entrance of a building.

People in medical clothes wait at the entrance of a building.

Photo: Getty Images/Kevin Frayer

In 2022, there is no longer a smile, whether sincere, forced or hypocritical. With an unprecedented closure, due to the pandemic and the inflexible political zero covid from Beijing, the kind contacts of 2008 are no longer possible or desired.

The Chinese regime has instead transformed these second Olympic Games in a show of force, mastery to the face of the world, and unfailing control in front of his own national public. A sort of culmination of the process of hardening and closure which has intensified since the arrival of Xi Jinping in 2012.

We thus find ourselves, in 2022, closer to the atmosphere of Division Games of 1980 in Moscow, only Friendship games foundin Pyeongchang in 2018. Four years ago, in South Korea, there was a spectacular rapprochement between Seoul and Pyongyang (the two Korean capitals) even if it was undoubtedly misleading and short-lived.

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Where we had found, for the space of a few weeks, an atmosphere closer to Olympic idealism: friendship, fraternity, bringing people together, etc.

International propaganda and realignments

Today, the Olympics can be seen as a propaganda opportunity for the host country, and as a projection of current international tensions with this diplomatic boycottbut also with the prominent participation, at the opening ceremony, of a certain Vladimir Putin.

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin

A meeting will take place between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping

Photo: AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko

This ostensible presence of the Russian president alongside his Chinese counterpart is a way of sending a political message. To say to the rest of the world, and to Westerners in particular: you two are not done seeing us together! A way of asserting that there is now, on the international scene, a real coherent counterweight to the hegemony, perceived as declining, of the United States and Western countries.

In the Ukrainian affair, for example, Beijing’s support for Moscow is clear. And – whether it’s over the Uighurs in Xinjiang, the stifling of freedoms in Hong Kong or the repeated threats of an invasion of Taiwan – China is not easing the pressure. On the contrary.

We can also, in addition to Putin, mention that among the international personalities present were people like Prince Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, President Al-Sissi of Egypt, the Serbian and Polish presidents, the leaders of the former Soviet republics from Central Asia. Can we read in these presences and absences a kind of geopolitical realignment? In some cases it is possible.

Strengthen internal control

These Games also represent an operation to demonstrate, internally, the control of the Chinese regime. The Chinese authorities have not skimped on the expenses and on the propaganda aspect of the games: we are talking about 35 to 40 billion dollars invested in the operation, not far from the 50 billion of Russia in Sochi in 2014.

A security guard with a mask and visor stands in front of an Olympic building in Beijing.

A security guard with a mask and visor stands in front of an Olympic building in Beijing.

Photo: Getty Images/Andrea Verdelli

The opening ceremony was imbued, like that of August 2008 (with the same director Zhang Yimou), with nationalist exaltation, with spectacular shots and thousands of extras. All the ingredients were there: projection of Chinese glory, of its three-thousand-year-old history, of its cutting-edge industries, of chinese dream (Zhōngguó meng) and great revival of the nation – two nationalist slogans which have today replaced the traditional communist slogans.

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In 2008, specialists in propagandist imagery sketched connections between these images and those of the Berlin Games in 1936.

Everything is not going 100% in Beijing

Xi Jinping is said to be well in the saddle politically. Her thought, like that of Mao Zedong, was inscribed in the fundamental texts. A rampant personality cult is going on in the country. The man is to be consecrated for a third five-year term this fall, which could bring him closer to the lifetime presidency.

However, at the start of 2022, not everything is going 100% in China, on the economic, environmental and even health fronts.

The fight against COVID (which Beijing loves to brag about to prove the superiority of its system) is going a bit off the rails with the Omicron variant. The famous strategy zero covid (which consists of ruthlessly sealing off the slightest focus of contagion) is no longer hermetic.

Moreover, in particular because of these confinements, the economy is slowing down. Energy supply problems were acute in 2021 (massive power cuts in entire regions), environmental problems are legion, coal is still ubiquitous.

A veiled woman wearing a blue mask including a crescent and a star.

A woman wears a mask in the colors of the unofficial flag used by Uighur pro-independence activists in Xinjiang during a protest outside the Chinese Embassy in London on December 9, 2021.

Photo: The Canadian Press/AP/Alberto Pezzali

Internationally, the image of China compared to that of 2008 is somewhat tarnished. We can recall the international mobilization against the violations of rights and freedoms in Xinjiang against the Uighurs, in Hong Kong against the liberal regime (which is only a memory today), without forgetting the repeated threats against Taiwan.

Concern over Chinese foreign policy is growing – and not just in the United States. China certainly retains a power of persuasion through its commercial power (we always see this in Africa and South America), but this power is no longer what it used to be.

Muscle rather than seduction

We can deduce from this that Beijing no longer seeks the effect of seduction, which was still very strong 14 years ago. Because China, in 2022, is less inclined to smile at the rest of the world and more inclined to flex its muscles.

With the Olympic Gamesone can imagine that Xi Jinping hopes for a diversionary effect on the air Bread and gameswhich could help him overcome the difficulties of this year and consolidate his political position.

Clausewitz said that war is the continuation of politics by other means. We could paraphrase it by noting that the Olympic Games are the site of the rivalry of States, and that they are the continuation of politics (even of war) by other means. Xi Jinping certainly knows this.

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