Tuesday, May 17

JO-2022: China ready, the Covid plays spoilsport

One week before the start of the Winter Olympics (February 4-20) on Friday, China is ready. But clouds cloud the horizon: the Covid, the question of human rights and accusations of computer espionage.

Ski slopes, ice rinks, springboards… In a country where planning is a quasi-religion, the construction of all the competition sites has already been completed for more than a year.

China, where athletes, journalists and members of delegations have been gradually arriving for a few weeks, promises “splendid, exceptional and extraordinary” Games.

– Bubble –

And this, despite a first pitfall: the Covid.

Thanks to strong measures (localized confinement, quasi-closure of borders, screening, monitoring of movements), China, apart from sporadic outbreaks, has been free of the coronavirus since the spring of 2020.

But with the arrival of thousands of foreigners, potential vectors of the virus, how to avoid an epidemic resumption? A health bubble, more restrictive than in Tokyo last year for the Summer Olympics postponed for a year, must hermetically isolate the participants from the rest of the population.

So far, the dike is holding: While dozens of positive cases have been registered in recent days among the participants, there is no outbreak in the bubble, no escape.

“There is a chance that these measures will be effective,” said Yanzhong Huang, a specialist in health issues at the American cabinet Council on Foreign Relations.

“Even if they risk disrupting the Games. An entire team can be placed in quarantine if one of the members tests positive.”

Outside the bubble, the city of Beijing has been facing an epidemic resurgence for a few days, complicated by the appearance of the Omicron variant.

– Uyghurs –

Another front for Beijing, the question of human rights: in addition to the questions of Hong Kong and Tibet, that of the Uighurs is arousing increasing international pressure.

Since attacks attributed to Islamists and Uyghur separatists, China has imposed a security lead on the Xinjiang region (northwest) – where most of the Uyghurs live.

Western reports accuse Beijing of having interned in “camps” at least a million people, mostly Uyghurs, and even of imposing “forced sterilization” or “forced labor”.

On the basis of these studies, Washington accuses Beijing of “genocide”, just like the parliamentary assemblies of several countries such as France, Canada or the United Kingdom.

China denies these accusations, denounces statistical manipulations and presents the “camps” as “vocational training centers” intended to keep the inhabitants away from religious extremism.

In response, the United States and some Western allies announced a “diplomatic boycott” of the Olympics.

“Part of the top priority right now is for the US to stop disrupting the Winter Olympics,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a phone call with his US counterpart Antony Blinken on Thursday. .

Russian Presidents Vladimir Putin and Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis or French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu, among others, are expected at the opening ceremony on February 4.

– #OùEstPengShuai?-

Another embarrassing affair for Beijing, which will experience a new episode during the Games: the questions surrounding the Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who should meet Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The sportswoman had published in November on the internet a long message about her upset romantic relationship with a former Deputy Prime Minister. She said in particular that she felt “forced” to accept one of their sexual relations.

The fate of Peng Shuai, whose message has been deleted and who is probably being closely watched by the authorities, is sparking international mobilization under the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai?.

In this context, will athletes protest during the Games?

In theory, the Olympic charter is clear: “No kind of political, religious or racial demonstration or propaganda is permitted in any Olympic venue, site or other location”.

“It will be interesting to watch how China will manage possible disputes and positions,” notes Carole Gomez, sports geopolitics specialist at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris).

However, protests remain rare at the Olympics. No incident had marred the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, despite strong tensions at the time around Tibet.

– Smartphones –

To this picture were added a few days ago suspicions of potential espionage, fueled by the fact that China has a sophisticated system for monitoring and blocking the Internet.

The Canadian firm Citizen Lab, specializing in cybersecurity, accuses the MY2022 application, used by participants in the Games, of having “loopholes” allowing data hacking by Beijing.

The organizing committee denounced to AFP a lawsuit which is not based “on any evidence” and assured that the flaws had “already been corrected”.

To protect themselves, several Western Olympic committees have advised their athletes to use spare smartphones, computers or email boxes during the Games.


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