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Beijing's 2008 Olympics were a soft power victory for China, but 2022 may be another story

February 22, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 24.7%. 2 min read.

during the Opening Ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics at the National Stadium on August 8, 2008 in Beijing, China.

As the sound of fireworks rang out over Beijing to mark the close of the 2008 Summer Olympics, China's leaders could have been forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief.

China had never hosted the Olympics before, and in the run-up to the 2008 Games -- held under the slogan "One World, One Dream" -- there were calls for a boycott over the country's human rights records, concerns for how Beijing's notorious smog might affect the health of athletes, and angry pro-Tibet protests along much of the Olympic Torch relay.

While the Winter Games do not have quite the prestige of the Summer competition, a successful Olympics next year could be as valuable a soft power win for China as 2008 -- especially if they are the first unconstrained Games to be held since the coronavirus pandemic, with the delayed Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics looking ever more beleaguered.

Chinese President Xi Jinping -- who last month visited several key Olympic venues -- has been keenly aware of how the coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan, has affected China's standing around the world, with Beijing facing criticism for failing to contain it.

And a key lesson of 2008 for China, beyond the value of the Olympics for soft power, is that a successful Games can wipe out any memory of acrimony and hostility in the run-up to them.

As the Olympic torch -- the symbol of the Games -- made its way from Greece to China in the spring of 2008, its route was thronged with supporters, and protesters.

He said they came after months of lobbying the International Olympic Committee (IOC), various national and international sports associations, and Games sponsors, to raise longstanding concerns over human rights -- particularly amid Beijing's crackdown on religious and political freedoms in Chinese-controlled Tibet.

Responding at the time, then-IOC president Jacques Rogge called the protests a "crisis" and said the torch relay was not "the joyous party that we wished it to be. " At the same time, he claimed the Games could be a positive influence, advancing "the social agenda of China, including human rights," comments that were not welcomed by Beijing.

In 2008, Beijing's hosting of the Games was seen as a potential step towards further opening up and political reform in China, but the opposite has proved to be the case.

With coronavirus cases still very low across China, and a mass vaccination program underway, Beijing might be one of the best-positioned host cities to hold a traditional Olympics, particularly the Winter Games, which typically involve smaller crowds and fewer athletes than the Summer Games.

In the end, China's leaders may hope that, like in 2008, after a lot of commotion in the run up to the event, all that is remembered about Beijing 2022 is a successful Games -- and not the controversy.

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