Will China maintain human rights while holding Beijing Winter Games?

Can China hold a sports extravaganza worthy to be called an event symbolizing peace? Will athletes be able to display their true abilities under strict anti-infection measures in place for the Beijing Games?

Less than three months remain before the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 4.

While the Tokyo Olympics did not allow spectators into venues in principle amid the coronavirus pandemic, China has stressed that the Beijing Olympics will be held in a “more complete form.” China has decided to give up on accepting spectators from abroad, but intends to allow residents living in the country to watch events.

The Playbook for the Beijing Games, a set of rules for athletes and officials on their actions, includes stricter measures than those set for the Tokyo Games. While vaccination was recommended for athletes and officials at the Tokyo Games, unvaccinated participants in the upcoming Beijing Games will face a 21-day quarantine after arriving in China, according to the Playbook.

Given that athletes cannot engage in practical training during the quarantine period, it can be said that they are essentially obligated to get shots. Participants will also be required to wear medical-quality masks.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose government has contained community-acquired infections through strict restrictions on people’s actions, has touted the superiority of his country’s governing system, saying it has “overcome the pandemic faster than any other country in the world.” The president is apparently aiming to hold the Beijing Games in a more uncompromising manner, drawing lessons from the Tokyo Games.

Xi is also believed to be aiming to enhance his leadership even more ahead of next year’s Chinese Communist Party congress, at which he aims to further entrench his long-term administration. The Winter Olympics will give China an opportunity to showcase its technological prowess, such as 5G ultrahigh-speed, greater capacity communications networks and its own BeiDou positioning system.

It is important to ensure that athletes will not face negative impacts from the Chinese style of holding the Games. Organizers are reportedly considering constant monitoring of athletes’ location data as part of measures against infections. Control measures that could lead to human rights violations will surely draw opposition from athletes.

In China, members of the public cannot express themselves freely because the government monitors social media. How much will athletes and others be guaranteed the freedom to express themselves at the Winter Olympics? China cannot avoid international criticism if it restricts them from expressing dissatisfaction over the Games management through social media or at press conferences.

It is also important for foreign media to be guaranteed press freedom. It must not be tolerated if Chinese authorities censor news reports or impose other restrictions.

The United States and European nations, which have criticized China’s human rights abuses against the Uighur ethnic minority, are considering a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games, in which they would refrain from sending government delegates as a show of protest.

China must realize that it cannot dispel criticism unless it takes concrete measures on the Uighur issue, such as allowing an international investigation team to look into the situation.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 7, 2021.