Beijing seals up its Winter Olympics 'bubble' amid growing calls for boycott

Xi Jinping's pet project will highlight China's isolation from the rest of the world, a former CCP ideologue says.
By Hsia Hsiao-hwa and Carmen Wu
2022.01.26
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Beijing seals up its Winter Olympics 'bubble' amid growing calls for boycott Workers use zip ties to lock up a fence as part of a 'bubble' surrounding the Beijing Olympic Park, Jan. 4, 2022.
AFP

Authorities in China have placed a "bubble" around 2022 Winter Olympics venues and facilities, in a bid to limit the spread of COVID-19, amid growing international calls for a boycott of the event due to human rights concerns.

Thousands of Olympics staff, volunteers, cleaners, cooks and bus drivers have been confined to a bubble since Jan. 25, with no contact allowed with the outside world, to be joined by an estimated 3,000 athletes and incoming journalists due to arrive ahead of the Feb. 4-20 event.

Arrivals must be fully vaccinated or face three weeks in quarantine as soon as they land, while everyone in the bubble will be tested daily for COVID-19 and required to wear masks at all times, organizers said in comments reported by Agence France-Presse.

The system includes a closed-loop transportation system between venues that includes high-speed rail services, while security fences and guards will prevent contact between anyone in the loop and anyone outside, which includes spectators.

The preparations come amid growing calls for a boycott of the Games, with rights groups and politicians citing widespread human rights abuses at the hands of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the "disappearance" of tennis star Peng Shuai after she accused a former vice premier of sexual assault.

Amnesty International launched a global campaign for a boycott at the end of last year, focusing on five Chinese nationals detained or disappeared over peaceful criticism of the government: citizen journalist Zhang Zhan; Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti; feminist activist Li Qiaochu; rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng; and Tibetan activist Rinchen Tsultrim.

"The Chinese government is using the Beijing Olympics to improve its global image and hide its human rights abuses," the group said in a statement launching the campaign.

"China is ... capitalizing on the glamour, prestige and public interest of sport to avert scrutiny of its deplorable human rights record. This amounts to sportswashing," it said, citing "systematic violations of the right to freedom of expression" under CCP rule.

Pan Yi, campaign manager at Amnesty International's Taiwan branch, also called for the release of Taiwan pro-democracy activist Lee Ming-cheh, who is currently serving a jail term for "subversion" in China.

"We hope that the Chinese government can at least let Lee's family know how he is, and release him as scheduled, so that this Taiwanese national can return to Taiwan," Pan said on Jan. 26, as the group submitted a petition to the democratic island's Olympic Committee.

The group's branch chief Eeling Chiu said human rights abuses have worsened under CCP leader Xi Jinping.

"Particularly since Xi Jinping came to power, we have seen more and more human rights defenders being arbitrarily arrested, imprisoned, as well as the enforced disappearance of lawyers because of their peaceful speech, assembly and associations," Chiu said.

Some 30 non-governmental organizations and rights groups in Taiwan signed a statement calling the 2022 Winter Olympics a "betrayal of the the Olympic spirit."

'Closed, gloomy, solemn'

Former CCP party school professor Cai Xia said the Games will expose just how isolated China under Xi Jinping is becoming.

"This Winter Olympics is closed, not open; the atmosphere is gloomy and solemn, very unlike the enthusiasm of the 2008 Olympics," Cai told RFA. She said the Games are a way for Xi to bolster the likelihood of a third term in office, decided at the 20th Party Congress later this year.

"He has ... to show that his rule is effective, that he has political achievements, and that he can hold a Winter Olympics where people all over the world acted very friendly to China," Cai said.

But she said the CCP is having to work hard to make the Games appear a success.

"Beijing is trying to keep the Olympics narrative going, and yet the heads of major Western countries won't be attending," Cai said. "They are all boycotting the Games diplomatically."

"The message that will be sent to the world outside the Great Firewall will reflect China's global isolation," she said, adding that Xi will be hoping to use the pandemic as an excuse for the isolation and controls on visitors.

China on Wednesday expressed “serious concerns and dissatisfaction” after the U.S. embassy in Beijing asked the State Department to allow diplomats and their families to leave Beijing as pandemic restrictions began to bite.

"China has expressed grave concern and dissatisfaction over this to the US side," foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said. "We hope the US [will] think carefully about the so-called 'authorized departure' of diplomatic and consular staff."

"China’s epidemic prevention and control protocols are rigorous and science-based. Our effective measures have well protected foreign nationals in China," Zhao told a regular news briefing in Beijing. "Evacuating from the safest place in the world will only expose U.S. personnel to much greater risks of infection."

An "authorized departure" permits U.S. diplomatic mission employees and families the option to leave China temorarily, but is not a mandatory evacuation.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Rick Scott said he was concerned for the safety of U.S. citizens taking part in the Games.

"I can't tell you how worried I am about the athletes competing in Beijing," Scott told a news conference on Jan. 24.

"Look at what Communist China did to silence and disappear Peng Shuai," he said. "Why, it's terrifying."

"I've called on the IOC and the Biden administration to take every step necessary to keep Americans safe. But unfortunately, I haven't heard a word for them on what they're doing about it," he said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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