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You come here, do your thing on the piste or rink, win a medal or two, and we will be listening in on every single one of your conversations on your phone, whether you are talking about the food, the bed in the Olympics Village or how you are going to train next year. Regardless, we'll be listening in.
If you think this scenario reads like something out of a spy novel or a segment in 007, you'd be surprised that politicians in the Netherlands, the UK and the U.S. are authoring one on the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. In recent days, it's been reported that Dutch athletes have been advised to leave their phones and laptops at home "in an unprecedented move to avoid Chinese espionage." Team UK received temporary phones to take to China for the Games. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio had even sent a letter to President Joe Biden inquiring on the administration's effort to ensure American athletes are "sufficiently protected from Beijing's surveillance and manipulation."
Such a paranoiac rush to try to protect themselves from imaginary threats is the inevitable result of the out-of-control politicization of this year's Winter Olympics. For quite some time, many Western politicians have been attacking China's human rights record, deliberately linking it to the Winter Olympics. Politicians like Rubio and Nancy Pelosi have urged a "boycott" of the event, specifically citing China's "human rights violations" in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Painting China as the grand villain distorts the Games. Intelligence work exists in every country. It is an indispensable part of governance and international relations. Any country as powerful as China certainly has its own network of channels to gather information. But intelligence work doesn't target people indiscriminately or cast nets on everything. No one has presented evidence that China is targeting athletes. No proof of mass surveillance has surfaced either. Nothing presented suggests criminal behavior of the sort that China's been accused of.
By trying to preemptively "protect" athletes, politicians in these countries have shown their depth of distrust toward China. Their delusion is at the core of almost all the recent anti-China sentiment in the West. As the Western alliance becomes increasingly fractured by different political ideologies, realistic interests and individual pursuits, an enemy is construed in an attempt to glue them back together. And China has been twisted into that glue – something that's big and frightening and must be confronted with a united force. At the Olympics that's supposed to unite people and herald peace, retaining a sense of animosity and division is the last thing needed.
It is certainly the last thing the athletes need. It is already enough of a challenge to travel during a pandemic, adjust to a foreign country and then compete. Now, politicians are trying to convince them that they will be actors in an espionage thriller for weeks and they need to watch out at each turn. Athletes don't need this kind of drama, the Olympics don't need this kind of drama, the world doesn't need this kind of drama. China is hosting the Winter Olympics, but the athletes are the main characters and focus. The focus shouldn't be on politicizing this sporting event.
Western anti-China politicians really need to stop being paranoid about things. Their imaginary capabilities have gotten them in enough trouble already when they thought they could be the "savior" of all people. Their imaginary capabilities have made them one enemy after another, from other countries to factions of their own people. It's time to stop hallucinating and look at the world as it really is: We are gearing up for an Olympic Games with real sports, not fiction-writing.
And even if it were a competition on fiction, this whole 007-spy-spin makes for a horrible script.