Dhe posh Westin Hotel in Beijing’s embassy district is surrounded by a dingy construction site fence. So that it doesn’t look so dreary, someone glued green artificial turf and cheerful Olympic motifs to the sheet metal. Employees from the Beijing Public Order Office stand guard in front of the fence when the temperature falls below zero. “Our job is to make sure nobody breaks through the barrier,” explains one of the law enforcement officers politely. He was immediately called over the radio to a nearby police car.
When he comes back, he says, embarrassed: “Could you please ask someone else?” The press is not welcome here. Behind the site fence begins the bubble that China created for the Winter Olympics so that the approximately 3,000 athletes, their supervisors and reporters from all over the world do not come into contact with the Chinese population. This is to prevent the corona virus from breaking through in China.
Fourteen years ago, the American President George W. Bush resided in this same Westin hotel. A day before the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics, he addressed the American people from his suite. “Good morning, I’m speaking to you from Beijing,” he said in the radio address. “China today is about to sprint into a modern age.” That means “huge opportunities for the Chinese people, for the American people and for the world.” He is optimistic, said the President, that “the universal striving of mankind” for freedom will prevail in China.
In the same national stadium where George W. Bush and his wife Laura waved to the more than 600 American athletes, the 24th Olympic Winter Games will open next Friday. Those responsible never tire of emphasizing that Beijing will then be the first city in the world to have hosted both the summer and winter games. The city may be the same, but the country is different today.
The 2008 Summer Olympics was China’s big moment. The country entered the world stage with a spectacle. The audience was amazed by the grandiose opening ceremony and great moments of the sport. The games were overshadowed by protests against the bloody crackdown on a Tibetan uprising. But the bottom line was that China was a prestige success. The Olympic sites, designed by well-known international architects, have become the capital’s new landmarks.
The English-language electronic greeting in Beijing taxis still bears witness to the efforts made at the time to present a modern, cosmopolitan Beijing to around 500,000 foreign tourists. The ban on spitting at that time, on the other hand, has not been enforced to this day. “The 2008 Games brought China to the world and the world to China,” said University of Missouri Olympic researcher Susan Brownell.
The 2022 Winter Games are under completely different circumstances. Washington has long stopped talking about the “opportunities” of China’s rise. Instead, America declared a diplomatic boycott of the Games, citing “the continued genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.” Countries like Canada, Australia, Great Britain and Japan joined. Beijing’s most important guest of honor, Russian President Vladimir Putin, shows how much the Chinese coordinate system has changed. For the communist leadership, the focus this time is not on their international image, but on the local audience.