The Olympic Games in Tokyo are a highly political affair for China’s leadership. China’s own medals are celebrated as an achievement of national importance, while criticism from abroad is rejected with indignation.
In sporting terms, the Tokyo Olympics are a huge success for China. Politically, everything about the Olympics is highly charged in the People’s Republic. “We are seeing aggressive nationalism in the People’s Republic. Within China, this is reinforced by social media activities, also by state media and even Chinese diplomats,” says Asia expert Didi Kirsten Tatlow of the German Council on Foreign Relations. “The really interesting thing is not that there is this nationalist sentiment in China, but that the state leadership is allowing it to spread so much.”
Since the first day of the competition, the communist leadership has been highly sensitive to any discord or perceived criticism. In Hong Kong, where freedom of expression actually still applies because of the city’s autonomous status, a 40-year-old man was arrested. His offense: During a public Olympics broadcast in a shopping mall, he allegedly booed while the Chinese national anthem was being played.
The government complains to BBC
The Chinese government complained to the British BBC because the broadcaster had told its viewers that the Asian island republic of Taiwan would not be allowed to take part in the Olympics under that very name, but would have to officially call itself “Chinese Taipei” under pressure from the Chinese leadership. In the view of sinologist Didi Kirsten Tatlow, the politicization of various aspects of the Olympics reflects the situation in East Asia. “Taiwan has to compete in the Olympics under the name ‘Chinese Taipei.’ The Taiwanese national anthem is not allowed to be played. These are two examples of political conflicts that are now visible because of the Olympics. The Chinese-speaking world is a highly politically contested space, and this is evident at these Games.”
Demonstration of power using Taiwan as an example
Regarding the Taiwan issue in particular, China’s state and party leadership is using the Olympics to demonstrate its power in Asia. It holds the opinion that Taiwan belongs to the People’s Republic although that was never the case. Anyone who even hints at questioning China’s Taiwan policy is punished by the communist leadership, such as Taiwanese singer, actress, and comedy presenter Dee Hsu, alias Xiao S. She is also very successful in China. When she referred to Taiwanese Olympic participants as Taiwan’s “national athletes” on Instagram, a storm of indignation broke out in China. Within a few hours, Dee Hsu lost a series of advertising contracts in the People’s Republic – under pressure from nationalist Chinese.
Violation of the Olympic Charter
The openly displayed nationalism of the communist leadership is also directly evident at the Tokyo Games. Although this is actually forbidden under Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter. For example, at the award ceremony for the track cycling team sprint competition. The gold medal went to the two Chinese track cycling sprinters Zhong Tianshi and Bao Shanju. The state broadcaster CCTV broadcast the award ceremony live and it was clearly visible that the two Chinese women had pinned small gold and red Communist Party badges to their chests for the occasion. The pins show a stylized portrait of Mao Zedong – founder of the People’s Republic and long-term dictator of China.
Olympic organizers investigate China
After various complaints, the Olympic organizers are now investigating China. One is because of the Mao Zedong pins are already in contact with the Chinese Olympic Committee and expects a formal answer, said Olympic spokesman Mark Adams on Wednesday in Tokyo. The Chinese side had already assured that such a thing would not happen again. In about half a year, the Winter Olympics will begin in the Chinese capital Beijing. An exuberant politicization of the competitions is already foreseeable. Both China’s Olympic Committee and the team organizing the Games consist almost entirely of Communist Party cadres.