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Making the Most of the Beijing Winter Games

Summary:
In this period of fraught Sino-Western relations, it is no surprise that the Beijing Winter Olympics have become yet another occasion for recrimination. But the Games will go on, and in time many will come to see that they were more beneficial than expected, both economically and diplomatically. CHICAGO – The 2022 Winter Olympics, set for February 4-20, have been riddled with controversy ever since they were announced in 2015. Many expect the Chinese government to use its role as host to solidify its political power both domestically and internationally. The US-led diplomatic boycott of the Games to protest China’s alleged human-rights violations against Uyghurs in Xinjiang has frustrated both the Chinese

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In this period of fraught Sino-Western relations, it is no surprise that the Beijing Winter Olympics have become yet another occasion for recrimination. But the Games will go on, and in time many will come to see that they were more beneficial than expected, both economically and diplomatically.

CHICAGO – The 2022 Winter Olympics, set for February 4-20, have been riddled with controversy ever since they were announced in 2015. Many expect the Chinese government to use its role as host to solidify its political power both domestically and internationally. The US-led diplomatic boycott of the Games to protest China’s alleged human-rights violations against Uyghurs in Xinjiang has frustrated both the Chinese authorities and human-rights activists.

The controversy is not baseless, but they reflect myopic perspectives. A sober assessment suggests that the Winter Games also are likely to have some important long-run benefits for both China and the wider world.

All host countries seek to bolster their national prestige through the Games, but this is probably not China’s primary motivation for staging them. After all, China will be hard pressed to beat out the traditional major contenders in winter sports from North America and northern Europe. In the previous Winter Games, Norway, Germany, Canada, the United States, and the Netherlands each won 20 or more medals. China won just nine in total, and only one gold (in men’s speed skating).

By contrast, China often is a top medal winner at the Summer Games. In the 2004 Athens Olympics, it had the third-highest total and the second-highest gold medal count, leading to hopes that, with enough investment, it could come out on top in the 2008 Beijing Summer...

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