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Beijing, boycotts, and the enduring politics of the Olympics


Dylan Matthews talks with Victor Cha (@VictorDCha) about the international politics surrounding the 2022 Beijing Olympics. The US and several other countries are boycotting the games to protest China’s human rights record, which brings up the question: What does this boycott mean for US-China relations?


Beyond the Final Score by Victor Cha 

Cha on the politicization of the 2022 Games

Vox’s Jen Kirby on the Biden administration’s diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Olympics

Vox’s Bryan Walsh on the failure of the Games to promote international peace

Olympic sponsors are facing pressure over China’s human rights violations


Dylan Matthews (@dylanmatt), senior correspondent, Vox


Sofi LaLonde, producer and engineer

Libby Nelson, editorial adviser

Amber Hall, deputy editorial director of talk podcasts

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is advertiser content. Facebook leads the industry in stopping bad actors online? That's because they have invested. Thirteen billion dollars and teams and technology to enhance safety over the last five years. It's working in just the past few months. They ve taken down one point: seven billion fake accounts to stop an actors from doing But working to reduce harmful and illicit content on their platforms is never done more about how their helping people connect in sheer safely and about the F b dot com. Slash safety polo and welcome to another episode of the weeds. I'm your hostile and Matthews right. we are in the middle of the winter Olympics in Beijing,
up in New Hampshire, where it feels like half the kids in your high school or train out or training for the winter Olympics at any given time, Chateau Gold, Medalist Hannah Kearny, who is a few years out of me, so the call where s your half of the Olympics has always had a really special place in my heart, but the Olympics have always been about more than sports there major meeting of national governments, and they have historically been a place where GEO political tensions play out where countries try to improve the reputations. And the rivals figure Charles the D S song, Korea, Foundation, chair and asian studies at Georgetown formerly served as director for asian affairs at the White House, National Security Council. He literally wrote the book on the politics of the Olympics. It's called beyond the final score, the politics of sport in Asia. It took look at what the two thousand eight Beijing games meant for China and how they compared to other games like the nineteen, eighty, eight olympics and soul, or the nineteen sixty four games in Tokyo. It's been.
Ten years since last Beijing Games and China's role as an olympic host remains as fraud and controversial is ever so. We asked Victor walking through the political implications of between twenty games and the politics of the Olympics. More generally victor. Thank you so much for drain us, yes, my pleasure. So what me through serve the political backdrop for the TWAIN twenty Games, what's served, China's big ol and hosting these Olympics and and in turn their whole promotion strategy I'm. So this is the second time that China's hosted the Olympics. They hosted the two thousand eight Beijing summer, limping and now the twenty twenty two winter olympics. This is the
fourth time that their winter Olympics has been held in Asia twice before in Japan, and then in twenty eight teen in south korean come chunk. South Korea, I would say that the context in which China's hosting these games are different in a couple respects. First, unlike twenty, t count. Chung. South Korea was a liberal democracy hosting the Olympics, which embodies liberal ideals of sport and fair play in rules and transparency. But China really follows along the lines of Russia in the sense that it, Sir illiberal regime hosting the Olympics, Sochi in twenty fourteen, the Sochi Winter Olympics and now at Beijing and twenty twenty two and so the first thing is that, once you haven't illiberal regime hosting the Olympics, in any event, every for you where the entire world comes here, that's already gonna be political, so the Irish say, there's no politics in the Olympics has is just a means, wishful thinking. It's just that
possible. The second thing I would say that China, in hosting the games and twenty twenty two I think these You really are a statement of China's confidence. in the success of their liberal model of state governance in two thousand and eight, I think it was very much of a coming. Party China trying to show the world how much they have accomplished in three decades of modernization. But this Olympics is not someone about coming. Our party really is an assertion under she's in paying What China believes is a successful superior model of how estate governs its people transacts its economy, and the evidence of that, as you know, is the success which they passed against. I dont know I agree with the view, but I think that that is the context. It would say-
These games take place this time you mentioned that he doesn't games and you you wrote a book in part about the Beijing games in two thousand aid and what a major milestone that was for China, how different or its goals now from there were fourteen years ago, since he does I think you know their audience- was both domestic and international in the sense that they were the mess Glee, trying to show the success of the Communist Party and hosting these deal Olympics for the first time in China's history and internationally, as I said it was its, are coming out. Party demonstrate to the world all this high tech kinnock, architecture and the thousands of years of civilization in China, China is no longer the sick man of Asia, These were started the messages in twenty twenty two. I there's a domestic message which again continues to be
the legitimacy of the Communist Party, but I feel like the public messages. More outwardly. Defiant in do does need, was sort of, except us as a great power and in twenty two, it's my or defiant in terms of not shying away from human rights. Criticisms are these are the sorts of things but actually taking them head on in a very ham, fisted way, whether its dealing with the missing tennis player, who claimed a chinese senior party official rate her or- the way they used a weaker athlete to light the torch in the openings, more? These are really many ways: a slap in the face of the international community saying we do things our own way, whether you like it or not. I wanted to talk, about the situation with that tenants how sweet you mentioned tanks way. So that's been a huge, serve background issue.
throughout. These games walked me through what happened there is, or what the implications of been fur for China's serve approached a hosting so punctual, I was it really top flight. A world champion doubles tennis They are in the women's Tennis Association, three time olympian and sheep stood on social media that He had a relationship with the senior Communist Party official, but also that that the comes Party official had sexually attacked her. And this, you know, was a huge revelation. Was posted. Also show me, the chinese government immediately, take it down and she disappeared from view completely disappeared from view the ILO sees response was essentially the say that there's nothing really the sea.
we dont let politics get in the way of sports a staged, a video call between the missing tennis player and the head of the ILO, see which, looked extremely staged. We still don't know punch. Why was speaking freely She's been coerced into walking back these statements to make the scandal go away and the icy millions tried to sweep the issue under the rug because they don't want it to be a problem for their limpets. The women's tennis associate On the other hand, when completely the opposite direction, they demanded nation of where she was and access to her, so she could hear her story and she was safe and then the chinese government was not forthcoming. The women's Tennis Association actually cancelled all of their tournament in China, over the winter, usually the waiter the season works is the. U S open in New York is the last Big Grand slammed tournament of the year and then there
the Asia swing where they go and play in different parts of Asia, including several places and in China, including Hong Kong. Before the start of the new season, which is the Austrian an open which just finished and the deputy a racing. You said we were not going to accept this and they ve cancelled all these tournaments that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. So the icy has kind of been in bed with China in terms of trying to play down any any these political issues. These human rights issues reflected in began a case like punk, try and the argument that the ice, He uses is that they don't want, allow politics to get in the way of sport. Well, this is not. Politics is human rights, violations of human rights abuses and sexual assault, but that nevertheless has been the ice. reactions. This is probably just naive of me, but it seems like, in addition to being morally reprehensible disappearing
sway and and trying to serve very clumsily impossible. Glee church. The issue, as opposed to just for prosecuting the senior official, seems really bad from a diplomatic standpoint for China. How did they see what what is served, the rationale in the Politburo for why this is so reasonable course of action. Despite the enormous backlash from save the women's Tennis Association Well, I think this is a thing that's interesting, which is that if this had happened, and maybe in two thousand and eight there might have been in a different x or at least a more forward leaning response, but I think that's how how much China's changed between two thousand and twenty to their sense of confidence, self assertion self righteousness. So they don't We feel like any to answer here: the poet criticisms or concerns about this case, and instead they
This will go ahead and do things the way they want, because they feel, like everybody, needs China. Anyway, everybody needs the chinese market, everybody needs do business in China, and so They feel no need to seek acceptance from the west about these sorts of these sorts of criticisms, and again to me, that the most obvious example of this was their selection of the athlete from change on to wait the torch in the opening ceremony, wait till I was. I was shocked when I saw that, because it was slap in the face of the binding, the Ministry and you know which had said the reason that its diplomats was boycotting the Olympics was because of human rights violations and change, So the put a athlete out there to me was a real slap in the face of United. it's a dozen or so other countries that also honour the. U S lead boycott. So how did that
come about and of what one of the implications been for. U S, China, relations that that the buyer menstruation may that choice. So the decision to carry out a diplomatic boycott as Jen Saki Boy, how spoke person said was they did not want to contribute to the sand fair. of China's Olympics bigs the by new ministries and will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing twenty twenty two winter Olympics and Paralympic Games, given the Pierre scenes, ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity and John and other human rights abuses, the athletes on team USA have our full support will be behind them. Hundred percent, as we hear them on from home will not be
should be linked to the fanfare of the games. When China was still carry out these horrible human rights abuses, the State Department actually determine the genocide was taking place with regard to the weaker muslim population in John, and that the United States decided that it would not, it would not send officials. The athletes could participate, and I think that was the right decision at the athletes participate, but the officials we're not gonna, be there give in and the fact that China has not addressed any of these concerns about human rights problems what it means for yours, China Relations is, I don't think it. I don't think it has an impact on Eu China relations as much as I think, it's a reflection or a manifestation of how difficult it was China relations have become Normally, a high level delegation goat the shopping ceremonies two years ago for the Tokyo epics Doktor Jill by
went, they would normally sit in the VIP Box with the host and do some events with the team USA and go to some sporting competitions, ensure them on. I think much as they would probably have liked to do that they didn't want to give she's in paying the follow up of the president's envoy, whether its doktor Joe Biden or somebody else servicing their shaking hands with she, Jim paying at his alleged pigs when she should thing, has done nothing about any international concerns about the human its situation. The book I used to play an important role in terms of articulating not just to the Chinese but observe human rights movements globally, the by demonstrations position on human rights abuses. It's it's a lack of willingness to participate in certain events at how much serve leverage does it exercise over China itself are very likely to see any real changes in, and treatment of. Wiggers orders is the attitude still you know you
yes, we can do we want, I don't think it was ever the aspiration that a diplomatic boycott would change China's policies. I didn't, I don't think anybody ever expected that you know it's it's just it's the equivalent saying I like. I just refused to go to this dinner party, because the host is a complete, in a jerk her, you know the sale and embezzler or whatever it might be. they're not nicely doing something to you at the moment, but what they ve done and what they stand for, just not going to give them at stage, and I think that was behind the administrations. Thinking on this, so it was never expected that it would change policy. It leaves a stain on Beijing Olympics and show them that
just can't get away Scot free. They can assume that everybody is goin to simply kowtow to China and ignore in what they're doing parts of their own country. So I wanted to ask about one athlete in particular, during the sullen backs nuts island who won the gold medal fur priest asking for fur began scheme, so Goo, was born and raised in San Francisco, sephardic untold, never for any length of time in China, but is competing for China, where her mothers from how much of a reserve coup was that for the chinese government and how does that's her choice to to cross that kind of sporting border effect, the games yeah, you know it's interesting. I haven't really had given myself enough time to think about this. I mean, on the one hand, it's pretty much of a razor's edge, because you know China is now open to having to importing athletes to rep
China. I dont think that means that they are all the sun much more accepting of sort of political openness and foreigners sort of helping to create a new multi ethnic global Chinese at the identity. I dont think that is sort of what this reflects. I think it it it's the way. China deals with new tat, ecology they tried to bring in the best as quickly as they can try to learn as much as they can from it or in some cases with technologies. Heal the technology, learn or steel as much as they can and then once the they do that they'll they will toss it aside, immature this bigger skeer, you know they ve now have her when the gold is a role domestically to get their youth interested in bigger skiing
and I m you know, though user, for as long as they can and then after that, when she's of no more use than go get rid of her. So unfortunately I you know that, Sir, when we I'm sure like for the athlete it was her personal choice and I've seen some other interviews and social media she gave worse. He said you know she has to identity in the United States, she's American and in China she's chinese from an ape. He I perspective. I can certainly understand that too, when you're Amber and twenty t when Chloe came there, Crean american snowboarder the gold medal. There were still people and social media. That said well, she's, not really american, even though she is born in the United States, raised in the United States- and they said well, you know she's, not really she's, not really. American, I mean she didn't represent curious. You represent the United States
and then there are people there who say island go, oh she's, American. She should be were representing America if she had done that. when the gold medal, I'm sure there will be some people out. There were several she's, not really american eunuch issues. She she looks asian, so there said, and then the third point I would make is this really is a dual sword, because China imports he's athletes and they celebrate them. If they do well, if they dont succeed, then they tossed them aside like garbage, and the chinese public also is very negative against the ones we don't do well. So in that sense to vary for colony in treatment of these imported our fleets and it's a risk that these efforts take we're gonna, take a quick break, but african back victorian era and take a bit.
More about past Olympics and also about certainty, broader aspirations of the Olympics to promote peace and cooperation to stay with us. This is advertiser content, facebook safety teams protect billions of people each month, believe me, industry and stopping bad actors online? That's because they ve invested more than thirteen billion dollars in the last five years, quadrupling their safety and security teams to forty thousand people and invest in industry. Leading a high technology to enhance safety on their platform is its working in just the last few months. They ve taken action on one point: seven billion fake accounts, thirty million violent graft us thirty, two point: eight million explicit adult posts, seven point: one million terrorism, related posts and three point: eight million drugs and firearms sales pose
working to reduce harmful and illicit content on their platforms is never done. Keeping your feed safe will continue to be everyone's priority at Facebook, learn more about how their helping people connecting share safely at about the dot f, being dot com, slash signal, so You mentioned the socio impacts when we were talking earlier. I wanted to ask again about the comparison to to Russia, so Russia has survived a tendency to have to show up chinese games, as you mentioned, both the Jordan invasion and in two thousand and eight and the ongoing situation in Ukraine. Now I'm cute, how you saw their hosting experience and how that's her have played in to their growing antagonism toward the? U S and the west sense. They work their hosts just days or months before some of the big drama
of twenty forty two. I think it similar in the sense that there was a lot of political protesting in the run up to the games, lots of things about corruption with regard to the building of the Sochi. Facilities and then the same sort of self assertions of the viability of their model that we saw you in TWAIN. Fourteen that we see in twenty twenty two I am a very uncharted will take on this be that the Irish Sea is complicit allowing these illiberal regimes to prosper and to demonstrate how well they're doing you at a time when we have democratic backsliding around the world, even in our own country. You know, there's lots of concerns about
a democratic erosion in January. Sixth, so in a sense in the Irish Sea, is putting these countries on earth in a showcase, a platform where they are. You know they can make as Potemkin Village in Olympics as they want, especially during covert because they exercise complete control, and I think that certainly the case today. It was the case but, to a lesser extent, Russia, it twenty fourteen, but it was still that the case in twenty fourteen we like to think of the Olympics when they go to these places as creating liberalizing forces, because. You're, your hosting the world, you under the magnifying glass people point out human rights abuses are the need for improved climate change. Practices are environmental practices, and then the host country feels the need to respond to that because they want to host the games well, but what we're getting instead
is the icy awarding these games to these countries and they use it as a platform to completely disregard any of the liberalizing influences and said Thank you were just fine away. We are, and we can show you how we can put on a really great great Olympic, so others a new chapter in the charter, that, with regard to sort of meaning, essentially meeting certain political benchmarks, will see the extent wouldst thou that is really exercised as a criterion for for awarding Olympics because sites in the future. So we ve mentioned those are dream that Olympic Games can be a liberalizing force, the best kind of argument that I've heard for that is the nineteen eighty eight games and soul and in addition, to knowing a lot about other products: a sport, euro, green security and politics expert. What did the nineteen eighty eight games, dues or of Heritage Sefton
and a posting in and how to change through the domestic politics of the country, the see awarded the nineteen eighty Olympics to South Korea in nineteen eighty one and in eighteen. Eighty one Korea was still run as a military dictatorship. The government in power had just killed thousands of democracy activists, in the southern city of Congou in South Korea. So there is a lot of actually outraged at the icy awarded the games to either the smell terror regime in South Korea and the Eu Sea. As they often do say, we don't allow politics, the myths with sports and therefore we're gonna stick stay with our decision, but you there. Many other factors that led to democratization, but you went pics was actually quite important because to make a long story, short democracy activists, they were not deterred by what happened in Congo and nineteen. Eighty. They continue to protest, and eventually the nation was consumed in protein
all of the country and nineteen eighty seven a year before they are about to host the Olympics and the international media, the ILO Sea or concern given all of this violent protesting and tear gas and things whether they would be able to host the Olympics. In eighteen. Eighty eight and in fact the M hand, pointed sick, appointed successor to the military regime leader in South Korea. Actually personally played a role in getting the. I will see to award the bid to South Korea in eighteen, eighty one so the limping wasn't the only was, but he was one of the major factors I think in the eventual decision. By Chun Doo Hwan regime to relate to the protesters and allow for direct presidential elections in nineteen. Eighty seven him in June nineteen. Eighty eighty seven governing power basically agreed the democracy programme.
sisters demands, and there are many other issues involved in that the consumer middle class politely conscious consumer middle class. His earnings for the Olympics was not an insect, parties double negative, but the Olympic nodded, insignificant factor personally, because the handpicked successor internalize the importance of the games. And secondly, because the international community was all looking at South korean saying they are not ready to host the Olympics. And so you know, I think those are major factors and the decision by the Malta regime I mean they could have imposed martial law to put down that democracy protest in June of eighteen. Eighty seven. But can you imagine what that would have looked like to the world into the International Olympic Committee? If they had done their lot of people would said we can hold the Olympics and I can t Korea, and so I think it does have that sort of that's one case where it really did have
liberalizing effect on on my country to generate truly different political outcomes, both the difference there. I I struggled to think of other cases where, in the Olympics was such a contributing factor to to liberalization. Maybe you know some examples that I don't buy: it fear of public back didn't keep the Soviet Union from invading Afghanistan has not kept the CCP from running.
Herman camps in John, what was different about the clear case. The maids observed that military regime more susceptible to pressure. Here, it's a it's a good question. It would make a night making great pasty dissertations. I think, but you know I would say you know a couple of things. The first is that in this case, South Craven, though, is a dictatorship. Was a? U S ally, a? U s. Tree ally always want to see nonviolent resolutions to political disputes, and you know democracy in Korea So I think that that's one thing that certainly different from from the from the China case. I think the other was that Cree was really following the sort of east asian Development model in the sense that in those initially east,
We closed system with state led. Can development made the country very prosperous, which then caused a consumer middle class to want greater political opening, so the tectonic plates were already shifting. this limit the crisis came to be, and arguably, in at the moment for China was nineteen. Eighty nine, with tenement square, where the outcome was very different. The South Koreans did not let the tanks role through the streets literally did not let them all through the protesters. Why in nineteen. Eighty nine China did allow the tanks to role through the streets and crossed the democracy, protests, and so suddenly part of it had to do with decisions are choices at the political leadership. In what kind of odd thing. bout the Olympics, that comes up whenever their server bidding processes, it seems to not be very economically advantageous for the hosts. It seems, like everyone thinks that they can get
on under budget and have it be profitable in that almost never happens again. Striking a me looking at who bid this time round that the only other bitter besides Beijing was Almaty, Kazakhstan, and I'm not a cent- wage expert paintings, but because it did not seem dramatic we'd better on human rights than China. Are we at a point where to want to host, despite some of the costs you kind of have to be a dictatorship with our reputation you want to improve. I certainly hope not. I certainly hope that something You know often become These were going to apply, are going to be treason, leaders that You don't see. The Olympics is a way to really legitimize there,
RO rule? See economic economic benefits, at least in terms of construction that goes on to create facilities, are good good for the Olympics. The after effects of that are another question, but certainly lots of opportunity to make money from the building of the facilities and they see propaganda value, which is why it is so important for the I'll see to really stand far too, not prioritize having a nice Olympics. You know over dealing with some of the imperfections were having the host country at least address some of the imperfections that are pointed out once they are known to become the olympic host and so what you write, I really do with the Irish Sea and olympic corporate sponsors were much more proactive in this regard. Those are the two groups that tend to be the least proactive when it comes to dealing with the politics of the Olympics in the case of corporate sponsors, for obvious economic reasons obvious, but not enough.
So in justifiable economic reasons, and then for the ILO, see in terms of them wanting to have a game that they feel is free of of politics? But, as you know, as you know, The notion that you don't want to talk about human rights because you dont want politics to interfere with the sports is in and of itself April. political statement it sort of like when the Irish Sea decided in nineteen thirty six, that they were not going to take the Olympics away from Berlin because they didn't wants politics to be involved in sports. That is about the most political statement that he or she can make of it to my point here- is that notion that these things can be easily separated? Is just it's just that it's a specious statement. Can't you can't separate the two,
so yeah I mean the Bella seem constantly and clearly political. I didn't I First Olympics. I remember learning about as a kid was Jesse Owens as a black man when, in the metal and Nazi Germany Bit hardly gets more political than that by doesnt have been this reply, I hope for the one that they can be as a force for peace and cooperation and reconciliation, and we talked about a potential liberalizing effect. in south. Korea is a very broad question, but but how how How do you think the Olympics has? An institution has upheld the broader goal of of trying to promote towards peace and quiet?
creation in even a small way between the nations that are participating. I think they would claim that they have, but I would rebut that if, though, if the bar for success is bringing people and countries together for twelve days, her fourteen days whatever it is, so that they can compete and not talk about their political problems. Yes, I mean the Olympics can do that, but the extent to which the Olympics can actually cause host countries to do better to aspire to the ideals of the olympic Charter, if that's the bar than they have not been successful, and I think we like to believe that the Olympics, your does have that sort of liberalizing effect when the entire world is coming to your doorstep. For
Two weeks host once do the best they can to. I just put on a good show, but embody the Spirit and the ideals of the Olympics, and that is the liberalizing effect and if the I'll see if other countries of corporate sponsors, if everybody else joints in their project, then I think you have a chance of of do that, but when the ice he doesn't want to play that role. Corporate sponsors, don't wanna play that role and on the current trade they're all in bed together, just to make sure the games go well, then it's a losing battle. If I were due to play Devils advocate for the accuracy- and I'm definitely more sympathetic to hear your argument on this, I could imagine, I'm saying it's important that the Olympics, event where everyone around the world and not just countries that, like each other compete, and so, if you got to say about human rights, and you had human rights violators dropping out and starting their own serve competitions, you can see it
schism and the initial point of the Olympics to unite these countries and have them compete in one place would be violated. Isn't it a risk or what, with taking human rights, seriously, actually achieve or change about
you went back so I dont think the answer is to say the icy should basically safe you're. No democracy cannot see limping. So I don't think that's what the others he should do, but I think it should be stronger in terms of what it expects of host countries in addressing at least some of the concerns stated by others and in the run up to the game. I dont think that will create schisms. That is just a way for countries who want to host the Olympic to understand that hosting in pigs is not just a business and public relations show it's something that much deeper and they have to be willing to make that commitment if they want to host the game again. Nobody thing like and military dictator has to stand up and say: ok, I'm willing to throw off my uniform and be a popular elected democratic to host the Olympic Spirit, that's totally unrealistic, but for the Irish Sea and corporate sponsors than others.
Love to be able to raise expectations of what this house need to do is part of preparing for the Olympics, and it could be about climate change could be about the way we treat women and girls education and could be any number of things. I think that's the responsibility of the earth. The Olympics is the crown jewels The rings at the five rings of the Olympics is the most wrecking. A symbol around the world so that it has huge value because it carry so much weight. That way can be used to do good, not just to put on the shelf, absolutely victor. Thank you so much for donors. Ok, thanks a lot, my pleasure, that's all for us today. Thank you so much again to Victor and thank you all for listening our producers so few along living
since these our editorial adviser vines are amber, always the deputy editorial director for talk. I and I'm your host doing Matthews, you haven't already be sure to sign up for the weeds newsletter, so can get more. Alice from Darlin in your inbox. Couldn't vocs dot com slash weeds letter. We will be back in your feeds this Tuesday, with another pair discussion with Fox correspondent Andrew Programme? We will see them the weeds as part of the box media podcast. This is advertiser content. Facebook has invested third billion dollars, and teams and technology to enhance safety over the last five years. In the past few months, they ve taken down one point: seven billion fake accounts.
learn more about their ongoing work at about dot, F b d come slash safety
Transcript generated on 2022-02-12.