The Olympics are at the pinnacle of international sports, embodying the sheer drama of competitive sports at the highest possible level. Yet politics, nationally and internationally, have frequently intruded into the games – sometimes catastrophically, such as the 1972 Olympic Village terrorist attack on Israeli athletes that left 11 dead.
No one likes to contemplate disaster. But the possibility of something horrible happening at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics is alarming – even higher than the pandemic risks that led to the postponement of the 2020 Olympics in Japan. Caution dictates a similar postponement of the Beijing Olympics.
Let’s start with experts’ lack of confidence in Chinese data on COVID-19 as winter exacerbates the flow of viral pathogens. Even if Beijing authorities had been completely candid about COVID from the start, the level of risk would be highly uncertain.
Consider China’s approach to tackling COVID. Beijing is trampling on freedom of movement and expression in a way that makes the mask and vaccine warrants seem trivial by comparison. In October, authorities quarantined 10,000 tourists in Inner Mongolia because cases broke out there, offering them free entry to three tourist attractions in exchange for their problems.
No Olympics participant can expect the Communist regime to respect and protect their freedoms, even if Beijing offered guarantees in advance. This regime ignored international treaty obligations on Hong Kong when it was politically appropriate. Simple words on paper mean nothing to them. Paradoxically, the American decision to impose a diplomatic boycott of the games may also increase the risks, especially for American athletes.
The larger geopolitical environment also advises a cautious postponement. Russian saber strikes against NATO now involve a direct threat of broader military action in Ukraine – and could lead to an escalation of the conflict elsewhere as well. Beijing strategists have certainly considered using Russian warmongering as an opportunity to secure regional “peace”. The enormous complication for US and allied forces to act simultaneously in European and Pacific theaters could make forced “reunification” with Taiwan very attractive to Beijing.
Many military, political and financial forecasters have estimated that the Communist regime is more likely to take Taiwan by force after the end of the Olympics. Beijing is also listening to these prognosticators – and therefore understands that the benefit of surprise could foster coercive consolidation during the Olympics – when the PRC may be set up to hold thousands of elite athletes, their coaches and members hostage. of the media, making them involuntary. guarantors of a worldwide acceptance of the occupation of Taiwan by Beijing.
China’s perception of its own military strength favors short-term military action against Taiwan. Beijing recently demonstrated potentially devastating hypersonic weapon capabilities. The Chinese Navy has more submarines and surface ships than the US Navy. Its soldiers outnumber those of any United States military force. It is placing hundreds of nuclear-capable missile silos in its western provinces. And it has developed space capabilities to destroy American satellites supporting critical military and financial systems.
The United States is responding to these measures with a new sense of urgency. Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley said the hypersonic missile test looked like a “Sputnik moment.” Yet the United States needs time to catch up.
If China prepares for military action against Taiwan under the guise of the Olympics, delaying the Olympics would disrupt that planning. It would also give the United States the opportunity to strengthen its deterrent position on Taiwan. Beijing might even cool down its rhetoric and seek to open more constructive conversations – something powerful in its tech sector, for example, would likely be welcome.
The world has delayed the 2020 Summer Olympics, in a democratic nation like Japan, purely due to COVID reasons. The risks of holding the Winter Games in a secret and authoritarian country like China – where an increasingly belligerent regime flaunts international law at will – are much greater.
Patrick Jenevein is CEO of Pointe Bello LLC, a consulting firm.