Soft Power, Politics and the Future of Games – The Diplomat

Diplomat author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers from around the world for their diverse insights into US policy in Asia. This conversation with Dr. Susan Brownell professor of anthropology in the history department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and internationally recognized expert on the Olympics and Chinese sports is the 315th in the “Trans-Pacific View Insight Series”.

What image did China intend to show through the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics?

The main selling point of the offer was that the Games would promote the growth of winter sports in China. This objective was systematically pursued from beginning to end, which rarely happens with the ambitious objectives of the candidature proposals. But in China’s case, it was part of a national strategy to develop northeast China as a winter sports destination, spurring economic development in impoverished mountainous regions. Ski resorts have huge appeal in East Asia because they represent the laid-back lifestyle of global elites, so entering the global luxury ski resort circuit was one more demonstration that China is ” arrival “.

Explain the role of sport in projecting China’s soft power.

Sport also plays a crucial role in pursuing China’s “soft power” (the power of an attractive national image). South Korea and Japan had just hosted the 2018 and 2021 Olympics, and Chinese leaders wanted to follow them in the symbolic arms race in East Asia. Winning gold medals is important, and increased government investment in winter sports has helped China achieve its best third-place gold medal ranking with nine gold medals, one more than the United States.

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After Japan and South Korea, China began recruiting foreign-born athletes to the Olympic team, in apparent violation of the ban on dual nationality. The two gold medals in freestyle skiing won by American Eileen Gu, representing China, put China ahead of the United States Its popularity with Chinese and American fans, as well as sponsors (about thirty of them, based in China and the United States), including luxury brands like Estee Lauder, Tiffany & Co and Cadillac) have suggested that the dream of Chinese soft power is becoming a reality.

Analyze the effectiveness of diplomatic boycotts of the United States and other countries.

There is no convincing evidence that the Olympic boycotts achieved their goals. The anti-apartheid boycotts of the 1970s were at least successful, but they were part of a much larger movement. The American boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 was a complete failure – the Soviet Union did not withdraw its troops from Afghanistan for nine years and the United States then occupied Afghanistan twice as long as the Soviet Union, discrediting the whole concept. More than a dozen heads of state “boycotted” the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games by not attending, but today no one remembers it, and it had no effect on China’s domestic policy towards Tibetans (the main source of protest at the time). Most of these public relations and diplomatic campaigns had little or no impact in China or any host country, and the politicians’ absence was quickly forgotten. The reasonable conclusion is that the 2022 diplomatic boycott will have little or no impact on Chinese governance.

What impact did the February 4 meeting between Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin at the Beijing Winter Olympics have on the principles of the Olympics?

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, US-China relations seemed better than ever, as evidenced by President Bush’s large entourage and friendly interactions with the public and Chinese leaders. China’s leaders might have hoped it would happen again: the high-profile celebration of the 50th anniversary of “ping pong diplomacy” in the fall of 2021, which underscored the long and close relationship between the two countries, might have been engineered as an opening that American leaders have failed to seize. I believe President Biden missed an opportunity and, by insulting China with his diplomatic boycott, opened the door for President Putin to intervene. Perhaps things would have turned out differently had Joe and Jill Biden been in China during the Games, using the spotlight to express their commitment to the Olympic ideal of world peace while voicing their concerns about China’s policies. (or Russians).

Many Western observers have interpreted Putin’s presence and the Sino-Russian joint statement as a violation of the Olympic spirit, but that is to forget that the United States violated the Olympic spirit first. President Biden’s absence has left a void on the scene that has been filled by the largely symbolic partnership with Putin – which, as experts suspect, Xi may now regret.

Assess how the politicization of sport could impact future Olympic Games.

The media frenzy can mislead the public into thinking that the politics surrounding the Olympics have become hotter than ever. In fact, since the end of the Cold War, no nation has kept its athletes at home in protest and no head of state or national Olympic committee has called for a national boycott. Voices calling for a boycott now come from media-savvy non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are the most influential – who take advantage of international media scrutiny to draw attention to their causes and collect funds. China has been a particularly powerful pole of attraction: in 2022, nearly 200 NGOs have participated in Olympic campaigns. But each host country receives harsh criticism.

Politicians also play a role – US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for an ‘opening ceremony boycott’ in 2008 and a ‘diplomatic boycott’ in 2022, then NGOs picked up the call and pressured other world leaders to do the same. President Bush ignored his call in 2008; President Biden did so in 2022. Having partially mobilized him, politicians are using the pressure created by these advocacy groups to advance their national and international agendas.

The Olympic Games play a positive role in global society by amplifying the voices of advocacy groups, raising awareness of injustice and providing talking points for debates across national borders. I fear that NGOs, politicians and critics may engage in self-defeating behavior by diverting the public from the games with their extreme negativity, thereby damaging the Olympic platform which benefits their own causes.

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