Winter Olympics 2022 | Well done, India. Time to play nice has passed

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Many media organisations have banned their reporters from carrying their laptops and phones to Beijing so that Chinese officials can’t spy on their data. (Illustration by Suneesh K.)

India has done a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympic Games currently on in Beijing—no government officials will attend any of the ceremonies. Doordarshan will also not live-broadcast these events. The sole Indian representative, skier Arif Khan, will of course compete. This is exactly how it should be.

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A day before the start of the Games, China announced that Qi Fabao, a regiment commander involved in the Galwan Valley clash with Indian soldiers, would be one of the bearers of the Olympic torch. The Indian government would have had to be utterly spineless to ignore the uncouthness.

And this, after India has been honourable in its conduct with China in every way. For quite some time, public pressure had been building in the West to boycott the Games. But India, as part of that increasingly pointless entity called BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa), had expressed support for China holding the Olympics and said that sports should not be politicized. China’s nasty response should now convince the Modi administration—and all Indians—that there is no reason at all to extend even simple courtesies to China. (It is a constant source of wonder to me that we expected better from Xi Jinping’s China.)

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His government is certainly the most brutal regime in the world, light years ahead of crazed tinpot dictatorships in obscure penurious countries. The systematic repression it is carrying out in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, and against millions of its citizens across China, is horrific. Its imperialist ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region—and in other parts of the world—are blatant.

The situation was quite different some years ago when China was lying its way to global acceptance, based on Deng Xiaoping’s dictum: “Hide your strength and bide your time.” During its successful campaign to host the Summer Olympics at Beijing in 2008, it had made noises that the liberal democratic world wanted to hear, that the Games were an opportunity to foster democracy, improve human rights in China, and so on. It had even released a few activists from its prisons. Of course, these were just noises—and readymade excuses for the greedy Olympic clique to justify its decision.

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The 2008 Beijing Olympics played a vital role in Xi’s career. He was the Chinese Communist Party official put in charge of them in the final months of preparation. In 2012, he rose to be party boss. In 2018, he made himself president-for-life.

Now Xi sees no reason to lie.

Also read: Winter Olympics 2022: From Shiva Keshavan to Arif Khan, India’s progression over two decades

In November last year, China’s top woman tennis player Peng Shuai “disappeared”—both physically and from the Chinese internet—after she accused Zhang Gaoli, China’s former vice-premier, of sexual assault, in a post on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. She has since reappeared and apparently claims that she never accused anyone of sexual assault and her post was “misunderstood”.

The Women’s Tennis Association has spine—it suspended all tournaments in China and Hong Kong. But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chose not to speak up for Peng.

The current Winter Olympics are being held under truly extraordinary conditions.

According to a New York Times report, Xi’s government has declared an “Olympic security period” and has jailed hundreds of dissidents, put hundreds more under house arrest, and heightened censorship of social media. All non-Chinese athletes have been warned—obviously, Chinese sportspersons don’t need a reminder—that if they speak about “controversial issues”, they will face consequences.

China is also hell-bent on its “zero Covid” policy. So foreign reporters must use a special app to monitor their health for 14 days before entering China, take at least two pre-departure tests, and attest to their vaccination status, or else face a three-week quarantine. Another test after arrival, and then the journalists must stay within a “closed loop” linking their hotel to Olympic venues, travel on official shuttles, and submit to daily PCR testing administered by a health worker. Throughout their stay, they will be escorted by Chinese police.

Many media organisations have banned their reporters from carrying their laptops and phones to Beijing so that Chinese officials can’t spy on their data. The Committee to Protect Journalists has advised reporters to create a special work email for the trip, wipe or discard their devices on returning home, and assume that they are being surveilled—both digitally and in their hotel room.

Plus, the health app that Olympic attendees must compulsorily download may have the capacity to monitor sensitive speech.

An Olympics where it could be risky to use your phone? Where athletes from across the world are told that if they say something that Xi doesn’t like, they may possibly never go back home?

The surreal has become real in Beijing. And the world seems to have accepted this. This is shameful.

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