The Beijing Olympics start in thirty days and as part of the countdown Xi Jinping today inspected some of the facilities. There is not going to be any meaningful boycott of these games, nor should we expect any delays no matter how bad the Omicron wave gets outside of China, or even inside.
The entire PRC Olympics apparatus is now in closed loop management until the end of the games. The biggest risk may be for foreign athletes who get the virus in the next couple of weeks and who fail the two COVID tests needed within 96 hours of entering the PRC for the games. As Yahoo Sports wrote recently in COVID-19 rule could keep athletes out of Beijing:
Protocols for the 2022 Winter Olympics, outlined in published “playbooks” and supplementary documents, require all participants to submit two negative PCR tests shortly before entering China. They do not include exceptions for athletes who’ve recently recovered from COVID-19, despite widespread evidence that PCR tests can continue to detect insignificant traces of the virus weeks after the contagious phase of a person’s illness…
The policy would put any athlete who contracts the virus between now and Feb. 4, the start of the Games, at risk of essentially being disqualified — even if, by late January, they feel uninhibited by COVID and aren’t capable of spreading it. Schaffner estimated that the likelihood of “persistently positive tests” was 10%, and said that “sometimes those tests can be persistently positive for several weeks.”
There is another countdown underway in China this year, and that is for the 20th Party Congress, the leadership’s “primary political task” for the year.
Ten years ago was the start of a very tumultuous several months before the 18th Party Congress. Here are some of the strange events of 2012:
In February Chongqing Police chief Wang Lijun was demoted by Chongqing Party Secretary and Politburo member Bo Xilai and then soon after fled to the US consulate in Chengdu, before surrendering and eventually going to prison;
Also in February General Gu Junshan, deputy director of the the PLA General Logistics Department, was detained for corruption;
Bo Xilai’s official fall began March 15 just after that year’s the National People’s Congress, culminating in a lifetime stay in Qincheng Prison;
Just a few days later Ling Gu, son of Ling Jihua, then Director of the General Office of the Chinese Communist Party, died in a strange Ferrari crash in Beijing. Ling Jihua’s career collapsed in the aftermath, removing him as any sort of potential rival to Xi at the 18th Party Congress, and he eventually got his won lifetime ticket to Qincheng;
In September Xi Jinping “disappeared” for two weeks in September. There were lots of rumors about why, no one has ever convincingly explained what happened, but he reappeared and two months later took over, and the rest is history, increasingly written as he wants it to be.
My point is not to predict that similar events will happen this year, but to remind how weird new Party Congress years can be, though in 2012 there was jockeying for succession to Hu Jintao but this year there are no clear successors to Xi in the running, nor is it guaranteed that Xi will even hint as to who might succeed him after the 20th Party Congress.
In yesterday’s newsletter I expressed skepticism about the speculation that the December 9 article in the People’s Daily by Qu Qingshan was a sign of dissatisfaction with Xi. I know there is lots of grumbling about Xi in various quarters in the PRC, but there has always been grumbling, and it is even harder now than it was a few years ago to envision how any group can coalesce to do more than grumble, barring some precipitating, likely disastrous event. Xi is a terrific student of Mao and his methods of taking and maintaining power, and he has spent the last 9 years purging officials far down in the political and military systems and replacing them with people who now owe their careers to him, and who would be very unlikely to see a better choice than Xi for their own personal positions, if not also for the PRC.
We also need to consider the impact of the personalization of ideology. Everything now is driven by Xi Jinping Thought on A-Z. If somehow, in what appears to be the wishful thinking scenario in some quarters, a group of more “reasonable” CCP officials were to decide the country would be better served by someone other than Xi, how would they remove him without also removing Xi Thought, which would then cause massive legitimacy issues for the CCP?
As I wrote in the October 21, 2017 Sinocism after the 18th Party Congress:
The introduction of Xi Thought makes the question of succession while Xi is alive a moot issue. So long as Xi has not yet met Marx he is the man with an eponymous theory in the Party Constitution so no one will have more authority than he does.
Given that this is a new Party Congress year I know we are going to see tons of rumors about elite infighting, some of which may actually be true, but we need to figure out how we can have a reasoned way of parsing through which may be true and which are not.