The Olympics are a test of China’s vision for the future of everything

Good morning! The Winter Games are an opportunity for China to show its vision for the future. And, perhaps more importantly, see how it works with the rest of the world. This is Nick Statt, and all I want from this year’s Olympics is another halfpipe showdown between Shaun White and Ayumu Hirano.

All eyes on Beijing

Today marks both the start of the 2022 Winter Olympics and the second time China has hosted the event, with Beijing becoming one of only 10 cities to host more than one edition of the Olympics.

More than perhaps any other country, China views the Games as its showcase not only for its athletes and the country’s culture, but also for its technological sophistication and investment in the future. But the country’s efforts to maintain control over online and offline behavior have shed light on China’s Olympic preparations.

A lot has changed since Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics. China’s status in the world has risen dramatically, reflecting its vast economic and geopolitical power and its colder relations with the United States and the Western world as a whole.

  • Among the most pronounced changes is China’s commitment to technology and its intense desire to be at the forefront of innovation.
  • Over the past 15 years, we have seen some of the world’s largest and most powerful tech companies emerge from China, from Alibaba to Tencent.
  • As my colleague Zeyi Yang noted earlier this week, China is using the games to drive this point home. It deployed cocktail-pouring robots in the Olympic Village, installed futuristic remote-controlled beds for visitors and set up its new digital currency system, eCNY, for its first international test.

But there is deep mistrust regarding China’s technology and track record. The country’s state surveillance apparatus and its tight control of internet activity and protests of dissent have been a focus of international concern with the 2022 games, in addition to rising tensions with the CCP in about its growing list of geopolitical and humanitarian crises.

  • China’s official (and mandatory) health and safety mobile app for Olympic athletes has been embroiled in security and privacy concerns, after a report by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab highlighted evidence of encryption vulnerabilities in the software. The app also contains censored keywords.
  • US government officials are officially boycott the games on China’s human rights record, while the US team advises its athletes to use burner phones in the country to avoid possible unwanted surveillance.
  • China has set rules for visiting athletes, saying they are subject to Chinese speech laws. This lead to national team warningsincluding from the United States and Canada, about potential legal issues for anyone who decides to use the 2022 Winter Games as a stage to express political or social opinions that the CCP might find unsavory.

And China’s COVID protocols are dancing with dystopia. The Olympic Village will deploy a so-called closed-loop system that Chinese officials will use to maintain an ultra-strict health and safety regime and ensure athletes follow local laws and regulations.

  • The aforementioned mobile app will be used to govern athletes’ ability to move around the village, using evidence of negative PCR test results in the same way as the controversial green QR code system China controlled the movements of its citizens and dictated quarantine orders.
  • China’s recently deployed 5G network will be the only way to access the internet inside the Olympic Village, with Chinese officials saying athletes will be able to bypass standard restrictions to access censored content, such as US media apps social, using special SIM cards.
  • But foreign officials fear that even this activity is being monitored and subjecting athletes and other team members to possible legal trouble. “It must be assumed that all data and communications in China can be monitored, compromised or blocked,” the US Olympic Organizing Committee said. wrote in a technical advisory document last month.

The 2022 Winter Olympics have become more than just a test of China’s ability to stage a massive event with nightmarish logistics and health complications, in the midst of a pandemic, no less. They also show how China’s specific vision for the future – of sports, technology, communication and everything else – merges with the rest of the world.

—Nick Statt (E-mail | Twitter)

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