Opinion – Tatiana Prazeres: Bubble that isolates foreigners at the Winter Games is a symbol of a more closed China


Despite being bitterly cold, it snows very little in the city that, as of this Friday (4), will host the Winter Olympics. Ensuring artificial snow for practically 100% of the Games is just a small challenge in hosting competitions in Beijing.

China, which continues to bet on a zero-tolerance policy for Covid-19, is very concerned about the proper functioning of the bubbles that separate those who come from abroad from the local public.

Holding the Games, with about 11,000 foreigners, without ruining the policy to combat Covid is the type of challenge that moves the Chinese government. It puts your ability to plan and mobilize efforts to the test. Success would be, shall we say, a testament to prowess — which is gold, especially as international skepticism grows about China’s zero-tolerance bet.

The pandemic, interestingly, helps Beijing deal with what, in other circumstances, could be a bigger problem — the boycott of the Olympics. The US, Canada and a few others announced that they would not send officials to the Beijing Games, only their athletes. Other countries will simply not send political delegations because bubble rules complicate logistics even for officials.

The effect of the so-called political boycott is close to zero. In addition to the low turnout, there will be very few foreigners anyway — which diminishes the symbolic effect of the absence of those who do so out of protest.

The bubble to avoid contact between foreigners and locals represents a stark contrast between the China that hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics and the one that now hosts the Winter Games. In 2008, the Games were seen as China’s display to the world, a sign of openness and a willingness to engage. Beijing, the only city to host both versions of the Olympic Games, received around 380,000 foreign visitors in 2008. Today, they are less than 3% of this.

In 2022, the bubble that will mark these Olympics is also symbolic of a China that looks more inward, is more self-centered, more suspicious of the world and more adept at strategic self-sufficiency. China has not received tourists from other countries for two years, it has fewer and fewer foreign correspondents and students, it has multinationals with fewer headquarter executives. Xi Jinping has not left the country since March 2020.

On an individual level, many Chinese, exposed to news about Covid in the world, see abroad as a risk. In the collective imagination, concerns about the pandemic are mixed with distrust of the West — and contribute to the paradox of a China that seems to isolate itself from the world, while imports, exports and foreign investment continue to rise.

In 2008, the Olympic Games also went down in history with the beautiful opening made by filmmaker Zhang Yimou at the stadium called the Bird’s Nest. In 2022, the same Zhang will make a new opening in the same stadium. Almost 14 years later, however, the contrast is Olympic.

In the game of differences, what stands out is a China whose economy is more than three times that of 2008. It is a country that feels more confident and that faces, in a more assertive way, a world that is more resistant to its rise. In comparison, attention is drawn to a party with greater control over the economy and society – to which, by the way, the pandemic contributes.

Next to the Bird’s Nest, a monumental museum was built last year to celebrate the party’s glories — as if to leave no doubt about who makes it rain, or snow, in the country.

Source: Folha

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