Back to the Cold War Olympics?
The author is the head of the international teamof the JoongAng Ilbo.
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who went quiet after her #MeToo allegation, held a phone call with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, and the rumor of her disappearance has been cleared. In a press conference, the Chinese Foreign Ministry also announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics. China seemed to imply that there will be no problem even if Western countries hold a “diplomatic boycott” of the Olympics.
China also said that it was a longtime tradition between Beijing and Moscow to help each other for major events. When major state leaders, including those from the U.S., Britain and Germany, did not attend the Sochi Olympic ceremony in 2014, Chinese President Xi was there. Speaking of the “diplomatic boycott” by the Western world, Russia claimed that attendance of world leaders was not important, as the essence of the Olympics was competition among athletes. Again, China claims that the Olympics would be purer without the ones planning a boycott.
Ironically, an example of the Olympic Games without “political bias” was the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. U.S. President George W. Bush attended the opening ceremony on Aug. 8. He learned from Putin about the war between Russia and Georgia. Georgia, which must have expected NATO’s support, was defeated by Russia without fighting properly.
As Russian troops are building up near the Ukraine border, a repeat of what happened in 2008 would be a nightmare for Western leaders. Biden’s need for behind-the-scene diplomatic management in and out of sports is just as desperate as Xi’s.
If the Cold War competition centered on military power, now it’s an age of complex competition of economic power, technology and value. So it is more of a “hot war” than a “cold war,” as argued by the Near Foundation in its recently published book “Revival of Diplomacy.”
A recent Le Monde editorial pointed out that at the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the U.S. and Europe were optimistic that China would reach political opening through economic development.
But the Xi Jinping system’s authoritarianism shows that it was a Western fantasy. As China grievously claims that American democracy is not the only kind of diplomacy, the IOC president steps forward and tries to handle the Peng Shuai case. Even if the world isn’t divided as it was in the Cold War, a stage of “bizarre harmony” is coming up.