In 2008, all taxi drivers had to join evening classes to learn at least a few phrases in English in preparation for the international visitors to the Summer Olympic Games, accidentally introducing new terms like “please” and “thank you”, which were not part of even the Chinese language vocabulary used by Beijing cabbies.
The world was presented and duly impressed with the perfect organisation and the hospitality and openness of China. With a little help of brome rockets even the rain was kept away from the venues of the competitions and with a little editing in of pre-produced videos ambitious parts of the opening ceremony went perfectly well for the TV audiences around the globe. Julian Bolt gave face to the event with his fable record time of 9.69 seconds for the 100 m and China reached the top of the list of gold medals as planned.
Fast forward 14 years and learn that the taxi drivers and all other Beijingers are told to stay away from the foreign participants in the games, even if they lie bleeding on the street after a car accident involving one of the special coaches for the foreigners. A carefully constructed “loop” is organised to, in the words of Brian McCloskey, head of the IOC’s Medical Expert Panel “protect the people of China by keeping the domestic population separate from participants coming from around the world.”
So the bubble is not there, as your humble editor naively wrote last week, to protect the athletes, but to protect the Chinese population from the athletes.
The opening ceremony will not be attended by representatives of most democratic countries, either expressively declaring a diplomatic boycott or hiding behind the argument of corona virus considerations. The fake part has been increased substantially by holding winter Olympic games in a city without mountains and without snow. However, the technological side has been much improved, with more than a thousand drones at other events in China last year operated precisely enough to be able to form a working QR code in the sky. A high-speed train connects Beijing with the nearest mountains able to provide slopes for the alpine competitions. Most trains are exclusively for athletes, which is not a big problem as there are no public spectators allowed anyway.
Incredible new records are not expected this time, rather that the medals go to those athletes who managed not to be tested positively before their competition. As happened in Tokyo last year, China will probably not top the nations gold medals table, given the lack of a tradition of winter sports in China.
Beijing 2008 was a symbol of the acceptance of China into the Champions league of nations in an increasingly globalised and cooperating world. Beijing 2022 presents a China facing serious economic, ecological, political and social problems, more feared than admired in the world.
One result is the strange situation that the usual global brands like Coca Cola, Toyota, Visa etc. are paying huge amounts of sponsorship money to please the Chinese government, but do not use the global rights for marketing in the usual ubiquitous way as not to annoy Western consumers and the US government.
If the Omicron wave cannot be stopped from causing a massive number of deaths among the unprepared Chinese population, the government has already started to lay the ground for blaming not only hamsters and parcels from abroad, but actually the foreigners who had to be let it for the Olympics. Regardless of the spin, the economic consequences might include a Chinese GDP growth rate in 2022 which for the first time in many years is lower than the rate of the USA.
Last week the Global Times published a guideline on the Chinese tourism market during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25), released by the State Council. Under the guideline, China will “steadily develop outbound tourism and have outbound tourists play a positive role in spreading Chinese culture and displaying the nation’s image … at an appropriate time.”
The State Council did not mention the fact that it will also be necessary that foreign governments will agree to let people coming from China enter their country without massive quarantine regulations.
If, as is to be feared, the Chinese vaccines prove to be ineffective against Omicron in the coming weeks, it may therefore become apparent that it takes one piece of material only to make a snowboard, but two pieces to make a pair of skis.
All best wishes for the Year of the Water Tiger from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the whole COTRI WEEKLY team!