The Silent Olympics: Beijing Restricts Free Speech

News Analysis In addition to being subjected to constant surveillance, attendees of the Winter Olympics have been warned by the Chinese regime not to speak out on any sensitive topics such as human rights issues. “How did we get to a point where we granted hosting rights to a nation where you can’t use your phone?” said Owen Slot, chief sports writer at The Times of London, on the issue of the Olympic Games. The decision to allow Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics has been extremely controversial, given the Chinese regime’s human rights abuses, including the genocide of Uyghur Muslims, cultural genocide in Tibet, and its militaristic overtures toward Taiwan. An additional cause for concern is the fate of tennis star Peng Shuai, who disappeared shortly after accusing former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. Chinese authorities have cautioned athletes against discussing controversial subjects during the Games. Yang Shu, deputy director general of Beijing 2022’s International Relations Department said that violators would face “certain punishment.” Yang’s statement, however, may not be in line with the rules on political and religious speech in the Olympic Charter. Before the Summer Games in Tokyo, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) eased the Olympic Charter’s Rule 50, allowing athletes greater freedom to express political views in news conferences. Yang said that athletes could be punished, not only for violating IOC rules, but also if the athletes violated China’s rules, which are considerably more restrictive. This raises the question of how much right the host country has in controlling statements made by Olympic athletes. Censorship is only one component of the CCP’s extreme regimen of social control. The U.S. Department of State warned that travelers to Beijing may have their hotel rooms and possessions searched without their permission. Reporters covering the Olympics are required to download a health-monitoring app that can gather their personal information and, thus, most will bring throw-away “burner” phones to prevent their data from being hacked. Journalists will be subjected to a strict regimen of COVID-19 testing, and if they test positive, they will not be allowed to cover the Games. In light of the numerous restrictions, some news agencies, including ESPN, have decided against sending correspondents to Beijing. NBC will cover the games remotely, from the United States. Former NBC sports host, Bob Costas, called the return of the Games to China “shameless.” USA Today columnist, Christine Brennan, said that the pandemic had played right into the CCP’s hands, giving it a pretext to increase its control over journalists. With at least 127 journalists currently detained in China, the country ranks 177th out of 180 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In spite of CCP censorship, RSF has issued news reporting guidelines and urged journalists not to use Beijing-friendly terms that do not accurately depict uncomfortable realities. Rather than saying “the fight against terrorism,” RSF suggests saying “the repression in Xinjiang.” Similarly, the Tiananmen “events” should be referred to as “the Tiananmen massacre,” according to RFI. In addition to some news media giving the Olympics a pass, the Games are also facing a diplomatic boycott from countries such as Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Protesters hold up placards and banners as they attend a demonstration in Sydney to call on the Australian government to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics over China’s human rights record, on June 23, 2021. (Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images) Even before Peng’s disappearance, there were calls for an Olympic boycott over the CCP’s human rights violations, including aggression against Taiwan. These are issues that have existed for decades and they bring into question why the West would even allow communist China to host the Games. More recently, Peng has served as a catalyst, tipping the scales in favor of Western governments taking action against the CCP. Since her initial disappearance last year, Peng has made a few, dubious appearances on Chinese and Singaporean media. But citizens and lawmakers in the West are skeptical about whether she was speaking freely or if she was under duress. The World Tennis Association (WTA) has demanded an investigation. Furthermore, the WTA called for an end to censorship regarding Peng. The association has since cancelled all tournaments in Hong Kong and China, and has intimated that it would abandon its lucrative contracts with China if its demands for an inquiry are not met. Unfortunately, not everyone is brave enough to take such a stand. Caving to pressure from the CCP, the Australian Open required that fans remove their “Where is Peng Shuai” t-shirts. The U.S. House of Representa

The Silent Olympics: Beijing Restricts Free Speech

News Analysis

In addition to being subjected to constant surveillance, attendees of the Winter Olympics have been warned by the Chinese regime not to speak out on any sensitive topics such as human rights issues.

“How did we get to a point where we granted hosting rights to a nation where you can’t use your phone?” said Owen Slot, chief sports writer at The Times of London, on the issue of the Olympic Games.

The decision to allow Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics has been extremely controversial, given the Chinese regime’s human rights abuses, including the genocide of Uyghur Muslims, cultural genocide in Tibet, and its militaristic overtures toward Taiwan. An additional cause for concern is the fate of tennis star Peng Shuai, who disappeared shortly after accusing former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.

Chinese authorities have cautioned athletes against discussing controversial subjects during the Games. Yang Shu, deputy director general of Beijing 2022’s International Relations Department said that violators would face “certain punishment.” Yang’s statement, however, may not be in line with the rules on political and religious speech in the Olympic Charter.

Before the Summer Games in Tokyo, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) eased the Olympic Charter’s Rule 50, allowing athletes greater freedom to express political views in news conferences. Yang said that athletes could be punished, not only for violating IOC rules, but also if the athletes violated China’s rules, which are considerably more restrictive. This raises the question of how much right the host country has in controlling statements made by Olympic athletes.

Censorship is only one component of the CCP’s extreme regimen of social control. The U.S. Department of State warned that travelers to Beijing may have their hotel rooms and possessions searched without their permission. Reporters covering the Olympics are required to download a health-monitoring app that can gather their personal information and, thus, most will bring throw-away “burner” phones to prevent their data from being hacked.

Journalists will be subjected to a strict regimen of COVID-19 testing, and if they test positive, they will not be allowed to cover the Games. In light of the numerous restrictions, some news agencies, including ESPN, have decided against sending correspondents to Beijing. NBC will cover the games remotely, from the United States. Former NBC sports host, Bob Costas, called the return of the Games to China “shameless.” USA Today columnist, Christine Brennan, said that the pandemic had played right into the CCP’s hands, giving it a pretext to increase its control over journalists.

With at least 127 journalists currently detained in China, the country ranks 177th out of 180 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In spite of CCP censorship, RSF has issued news reporting guidelines and urged journalists not to use Beijing-friendly terms that do not accurately depict uncomfortable realities. Rather than saying “the fight against terrorism,” RSF suggests saying “the repression in Xinjiang.” Similarly, the Tiananmen “events” should be referred to as “the Tiananmen massacre,” according to RFI.

In addition to some news media giving the Olympics a pass, the Games are also facing a diplomatic boycott from countries such as Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

AUSTRALIA-OLY-2022-BEIJING-CHINA-POLITICS
Protesters hold up placards and banners as they attend a demonstration in Sydney to call on the Australian government to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics over China’s human rights record, on June 23, 2021. (Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images)

Even before Peng’s disappearance, there were calls for an Olympic boycott over the CCP’s human rights violations, including aggression against Taiwan. These are issues that have existed for decades and they bring into question why the West would even allow communist China to host the Games.

More recently, Peng has served as a catalyst, tipping the scales in favor of Western governments taking action against the CCP. Since her initial disappearance last year, Peng has made a few, dubious appearances on Chinese and Singaporean media. But citizens and lawmakers in the West are skeptical about whether she was speaking freely or if she was under duress. The World Tennis Association (WTA) has demanded an investigation.

Furthermore, the WTA called for an end to censorship regarding Peng. The association has since cancelled all tournaments in Hong Kong and China, and has intimated that it would abandon its lucrative contracts with China if its demands for an inquiry are not met. Unfortunately, not everyone is brave enough to take such a stand. Caving to pressure from the CCP, the Australian Open required that fans remove their “Where is Peng Shuai” t-shirts.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution calling for immediate, third-party verification of Peng’s freedom and safety. The bill also condemned the IOC for collaborating with the CCP to cover up Peng’s disappearance.

Rep. Michael Gallagher (R-Wis.) called for Magnitsky sanctions to be brought against members of the IOC who colluded with the CCP, aiding in the cover up. The Magnitsky Act empowers the U.S. government to sanction human rights offenders by freezing their assets and banning them from entering the United States. If implemented, Magnitsky sanctions could also challenge the tax-exempt status of the IOC in America.

The diplomatic boycotts and potential sanctions seem ineffective. Despite the CCP’s censorship, surveillance, genocide, and mistreatment of a tennis star, the Games are set to begin on Feb. 4, further legitimizing the CCP’s position as a world leader.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Antonio Graceffo, Ph.D., has spent more than 20 years in Asia. He is a graduate of the Shanghai University of Sport and holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University. Graceffo works as an economics professor and China economic analyst, writing for various international media. Some of his books on China include "Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion" and "A Short Course on the Chinese Economy."