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The most shameful Olympics since Hitler’s: The snow is as fake as China’s propaganda about Beijing’s Winter Games. From no mention of Uighur Muslims to an app that spies on competitors, it all begs the question… should Britain really be taking part?
Serious snowfalls seldom hit Zhangjiakou. Though this grim industrial city folds into the rugged Yin Mountains, 2,000 ft above sea level, and the mercury plunged to -16c this week, in February the weather is invariably bone-dry.
Last Monday, however, on the eve of the Chinese New Year, something marvellous happened there. Something that must have gladdened the hearts of the Communist Party mandarins tasked with delivering the XXIV Olympic Winter Games — which open today — to flawless perfection.
When, following their celebratory family dinners, the nation’s masses tuned in to state-sanctioned TV programmes hailing China’s triumphal rise as a winter-sports powerhouse, the night skies above Zhangjiakou, which will host events such as cross-country skiing, sparkled with fresh snow.
By the following morning, this usually brown and barren outpost on the fringes of the Inner Mongolian steppe — as vividly highlighted by a set of exclusive photographs in The Mail on Sunday last month — had been transformed into a Winter Wonderland with a pristine white carpet, three inches thick.
Members of Team Switzerland go through security as they arrive at an Olympic Village. All attendees will be transported to the three ‘bubble’ venues on buses travelling along purpose-built highways connecting with designated hotels, and the three Olympic villages
Ordinarily fogged by smoke belching from coal-fuelled power plants and factories, the sky was beautifully clear and blue, the air of alpine quality. Coming just four days before the opening ceremony, could this timely climatic change really have been down to chance? Or rather, with the eyes of the world and a billion of its own citizens fixed on northern China, was the magical scenery secretly choreographed by weather-altering state scientists?
After all, 14 years ago, hundreds of rockets filled with ‘cloud-seeding’ chemicals were fired over the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing to dispel rain clouds threatening to mar the opening of the 2008 summer Olympics.
Indeed, according to Professor John Moore, a British scientist who heads China’s ‘climate-engineering’ research programme, it would be surprising if the weather wasn’t enhanced to cover up the fact they are being staged in an area where snow is in such short supply that it has had to be manufactured by freezing 49 million gallons of water.
This is one of the more innocuous inconvenient truths about these Games, perhaps the most controversial since the 1936 Berlin Olympics, opened to raised-arm salutes under the steely gaze of Adolf Hitler.
‘There’s no reason why they [the Chinese authorities] wouldn’t try to improve the weather for the Olympics, in the sense that it doesn’t have effects outside the local area,’ Professor Moore told the Mail this week.
‘You can’t always make snow and a clear blue sky. The moisture has to be there to start with.’
The problem, he explained, is that in a heavily polluted area sooty particles cling to each droplet and prevent them growing big enough to condense into snowflakes, even on cloudy days. Even if rockets weren’t fired, says Professor Moore, factories and offices would be closed and traffic greatly reduced to freshen the skies during the Games.
The BBC plans to screen 300 hours of action. Yet many onlookers — including 200 human rights organisations — feel appalled that China has been permitted to hold the Games at all
After all, nothing must be allowed to spoil the spectacle of something that is so dear to the heart of President Xi Jinping. For in his tenth year in power, the supreme leader is flaunting China’s ability to stage a magnificent sporting occasion amid the pandemic as a symbol of his potency.
Then again, perhaps ‘charade’ is a more fitting description for these Games. For as the Mail’s team discovered, after hazmat-suited officials whisked them away for yet another Covid test on landing at Beijing airport this week, nothing about this surreal sporting shindig is quite as wonderful as China would have us believe.
Over the next fortnight, the competitors will astonish the watching billions with gravity-defying feats of daring, grace and speed. The BBC plans to screen 300 hours of action. Yet many onlookers — including 200 human rights organisations — feel appalled that China has been permitted to hold the Games at all.
An estimated one million members of China’s Uighur minority languish in detention camps, where they are routinely raped, tortured, and brainwashed into denying their Muslim religion and obeying the communist diktat.
Think, too, of the Tibetans, who are similarly downtrodden; and the people of Hong Kong, for whom the promise of democracy has ended in brutal repression.
And of countless others — among them the sexually assaulted Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai — who have disappeared into some Kafka-esque void simply for speaking out against an iniquitous regime.
In the damning summation of Human Rights Watch, China has sunk into ‘its darkest period’ of tyranny since the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square.
Shamefully, however, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in its eagerness to reap the huge financial rewards of staging the Games in China, chooses to ignore these monstrous transgressions.
Its president, Thomas Bach, when pressed to condemn allegations of Uighur genocide in Xinjiang province, replied that the IOC was not some ‘super world government’ capable of tackling issues that had defeated the United Nations Security Council.
Britain has joined the U.S. in a ‘diplomatic boycott’ of the Games — meaning no ministers will join the likes of Vladimir Putin at today’s ceremony.
Yet Boris Johnson rejected calls to withdraw our team, and encouraged competitors to take part. Then there is Lord Coe, president of World Athletics, who — with our winter athletes doubtless looking to him for moral leadership — declared himself ‘philosophically opposed’ to boycotts, calling them ‘meaningless’.
Under Olympic rules, athletes can supposedly express their views before or after events, though not on the medal podium. However, their comments cannot be ‘targeted directly or indirectly against people, countries, organisations and/or their dignity’, and must not be ‘disruptive’ — which, under China’s draconian laws, effectively amounts to a gag.
This is one of the more innocuous inconvenient truths about these Games, perhaps the most controversial since the 1936 Berlin Olympics, opened to raised-arm salutes under the steely gaze of Adolf Hitler
With a high-ranking Chinese official’s sinister warning fresh in the memory — that any competitor who contravenes ‘the Olympic spirit’ or Chinese regulations faces ‘certain punishment’ — will any Team GB members be brave (or foolish) enough to voice their dissent?
British Olympic Association chief Andy Anston clearly hopes not. While our 50-strong squad will be allowed ‘freedom of expression’, he counselled them to ‘be sensible’ and to ‘touch base if you feel you’re being controversial’.
It is sound advice, for the paranoia surrounding the Games is evident from the level of surveillance to which the few foreigners permitted to attend are being subjected. It is truly of Orwellian proportions.
At Beijing 2008, dissidents were permitted to demonstrate at special ‘protest points’ tucked discreetly away from the venues (though many of them were quietly slung into jail soon after the Games ended). Fourteen years on, things are very different.
Covid has provided the organisers with a very convenient excuse for keeping people tightly in check. On arrival, all foreign athletes, coaches, officials and media representatives were required to download the official Games app, MY2022, on to their mobiles.
This supposedly prevents people spreading the virus by monitoring their state of health. It also serves as an information hub. However, a disquieting investigation by the internet watchdog Citizen Lab has revealed how the app’s ‘flawed’ encryption device enables it to be used as a spying tool.
It can apparently pick up users’ voices and relay their words to Chinese state servers for analysis. Reports also claim the app can detect 2,442 sensitive keywords that might be used by human rights protesters; anyone caught using them could be cut off from the internet. Or worse. This time, no public shows of dissent will be permitted, either. Only a couple of hundred selected spectators will be allowed to watch the Games.
All attendees will be transported to the three ‘bubble’ venues on buses travelling along purpose-built highways connecting with designated hotels, and the three Olympic villages. A privileged few can also ride aboard the Snow Dream, a 225 mph train built for the Games at vast expense.
Anyone attempting to escape this ‘closed loop’ system faces instant arrest — a fate narrowly avoided this week by several members of the British Olympic party, and a journalist frogmarched back inside the Crowne Plaza Hotel after testing the mettle of guards patrolling its perimeter fence.
For the majority of ordinary Chinese people, winter sports are an alien concept. Hardly anyone skis. China’s abject performances in the 11 Winter Games it has entered reflects this. The National Ski Jumping Centre is pictured above
This makes it impossible for outsiders to speak to ‘real’ Chinese people (as opposed to flunkies) and hear what they think of having their homes repainted with the official Olympic logo — a skiing, skating panda — or demolished to make way for new slalom and toboggan runs.
In one village, 1,500 people are said to have been evicted so a ski-jump could be built there. Presumably they were among the thousands unceremoniously shunted off the mountains where they have lived for generations and relocated into high-rise blocks.
It is said this is all part of the Communist Party’s ‘poverty alleviation strategy’: a catch-all phrase to justify the avalanche of public money that has cascaded down on these Games.
According to official figures, the cost has been restricted to a ‘modest’ £3.2 billion, in line with Xi’s avowed aim to keep this Olympics ‘simple’. However, the respected online business magazine Insider claims China has spent ten times that amount.
For the majority of ordinary Chinese people, winter sports are an alien concept. Hardly anyone skis. China’s abject performances in the 11 Winter Games it has entered reflects this.
It has won just 13 gold medals (two more than Britain) and languished in 14th place in the medal table four years ago, in South Korea. But it is a safe bet that, with China in the global spotlight, all that is about to change.
Determined to see the red flag fluttering from the podium on home turf, soon after China won the Games bid, in 2015, Xi ordered an audacious programme designed to challenge the cold weather sports supremacy of nations such as Norway, Germany, the U.S. and Canada.
This was done in a typically clinical manner. Dozens of talented young summer athletes — sprinters, distance runners, long- and high-jumpers — were ordered to abandon track and field and packed off to tough skiing ‘boot-camps’ in Europe.
Many had never meandered down the nursery slopes until then, and barely knew one end of a ski from another. Yet within four years they were expected to have been reinvented as potential Olympic champions.
The disturbing story behind these remote mountain medal factories is best illustrated in Norway, a nation with a population more than 200 times smaller than China’s which topped the medal table at the last Winter Games.
In 2010 the Scandinavian nation gravely offended Beijing by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to dissident writer Liu Xiaobo. It responded by cutting trade links with Norway, which lost its lucrative salmon exports to China. When, seven years later, China deigned to restore economic ties, a condition was that Norway must train 32 of the novice Chinese skiers using crack instructors and the best available facilities.
On the surface, this bizarre experiment might seem mildly amusing: China’s re-enactment of the movie Cool Runnings, about the creation of a Jamaican bobsleigh team. However, it sparked widespread disgust among many Norwegians, who objected to their publicly funded ski centres being commandeered.
There was also a culture clash between some Norwegian instructors, who believed learning ought to be enjoyable, and Chinese officials, who demanded a punishing, dawn-to-dusk training regime.
Since three of the 32 rookies progressed well enough to represent China at these Games, the People’s Party doubtless considers it a great success. However, it is not known what became of the 29 ‘failures’.
Perhaps they might find work in one of the 800 new mountain resorts China has built, in aiming to use the Games as the springboard for a huge skiing industry, with aspirations of rivalling fashionable destinations in Europe and North America.
It is predicted that China’s nascent snow-sport economy could soon be worth £115 billion; a nice new earner for the party elite. Naturally, though, Xi assures the comrades that the Games will benefit everyone.
Indeed, China has already achieved the target it set after winning the bid: to persuade 300 million citizens to participate for the first time in winter sports. That is, if we believe a recent survey by the state’s National Bureau of Statistics.
The Mail would have liked to visit the smart new resorts that dapple the snowless peaks surrounding Beijing to put this latest claim to the test. It would have been interesting, too, to find out whether Xi’s subjects share the president’s self-glorifying enthusiasm for the Games.
And to hear the view from Xinjiang province, where some of the uniforms to be worn by the Chinese team were reportedly made in forced labour camps.
Regrettably, however, we will see and hear nothing beyond the high metal fences surrounding the hotel and venues. Which is just how the organisers of this shameful pantomime always planned it.
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