Recognizing America's leverage with Beijing 2022

The courtship of the world’s two superpowers began in 1972 when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger first set foot on the soil of China’s 5,000-year-old nation. The relationship then blossomed for decades between one, a fully developed nation, the United States, and the other, a sleeping dragon, China. That ravenous beast embraced the challenge of becoming a developed-world equal with lightning-quick speed, loose rules, and a chip on its shoulder.

As a result, the Middle Kingdom progressed from a capitalistic infant to adolescent in only three decades, ultimately culminating in its globally staged 2008 debutante party, the Beijing Summer Olympics. American sponsors Coca-Cola, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s, Nike, and Visa, as well as athletes like LeBron James and Michael Phelps, arrived with great fanfare to represent our nation’s commitment to China’s progress towards developed-world adulthood. Our Western allies joined to usher similar praise and respect.

In the thirteen years since, the world has witnessed China reach that adult stage in powerful, and often nefarious, fashion. The 2022 Winter Olympics is scheduled to open in Beijing on Feb. 4. With the 2008 coming-of-age ceremony deep in the rearview mirror, these upcoming Olympics will be China’s version of a fancy adult dinner party. With meticulous attention to every detail, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will expect nothing less than perfection. That means full attendance by all the invited guests. Anything less will result in a loss of face on a globally embarrassing scale.

Therefore, the “should America boycott or not?” question is not the correct one. Instead, it should be, “how does the West best use the threat of a boycott?” as America and our allies possess a rare and powerful form of leverage, capable of pressuring constructive change from the CCP in a variety of areas.

Specifically, China should expect an Olympic boycott from America and our allies unless these suggested requests are agreed to:

  1. Full, unrestricted access for unscheduled inspections of Uyghur facilities in Xinjiang.
  2. A complete halt of all military exercises threatening Taiwan’s future sovereignty.
  3. Ending CCP market retaliation against companies or individuals who use their freedom of speech rights while outside PRC borders. This includes abolishing the National Security Law internationally.
  4. Reinstating Hollywood’s ability to create global content, freely, without market repercussions.
  5. Allowing Olympic athletes, journalists, and spectators full freedom of speech rights, without punishment, while in China.
  6. Granting Daryl Morey’s Philadelphia 76’ers, and the NBA overall, complete access to China’s market again.
  7. Releasing falsely imprisoned Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, immediately.
  8. Agreeing to a “developed nation” WTO redesignation and the universally required SEC accounting standards for US capital market access.

Update: Australians Cheng Lei, a woman TV anchor and Yang Hengjun, a writer, reportedly also are being held by the Chinese.

Obviously, these are merely eight ideas amongst many. Most importantly, all are both practical and achievable within the next 300 days.

My friend and National War College’s sports-strategy expert, Captain Corey Ray, sees the theoretical value in such a threat, yet also warns of the effectiveness of a boycott, should we have to go there.

Ray is a captain in the U.S. Navy and an assistant professor at the National War College where he teaches courses in National Security Strategy Logic. He created a course that combines contextual analysis viewed through the unique lens of sports and the application of sports as non-military instrument of national power to design strategies addressing contemporary security challenges.

Captain Ray tells me that history has proven boycotts, while appearing righteous in the moment, have neither immediate nor strategic impact. He adds that attendance can also result in unplanned, positive outcomes, stating, “Had the U.S. boycotted the 1936 Munich Games, Jesse Owens’ athletic prowess would not have exposed Adolf Hitler’s master race theory as a grave, international threat, possibly allowing the horrific evils of World War II to scale in an even more terrifying and tragic manner.”

If the boycott threat fails to achieve a positive outcome, he proposes, then “the liberal international order should ask itself how to best influence the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to threaten China with a ban. As a result of Apartheid, the IOC banned South Africa from 1964 until 1992 when South Africa participated in the 1992 Barcelona summer games with a racially integrated team.”

However, Captain Ray stresses, “Influencing the IOC will prove difficult, as evidence of subduing the Uyghur community preceded the IOC awarding 2022 hosting responsibilities to China back in 2015. Banning the host country would highlight a selection process the IOC would rather keep in the dark.”    

He continues, “In the case of the upcoming Beijing Olympics, an IOC-imposed ban creates the necessary leverage to gain ground on small achievements. Even better, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) could apply this same policy, threatening to ban China from World Cup competition, laying the groundwork for longer term, larger progressive achievements that the CCP must commit to in order to maintain its face-keeping, perfect mega-competition attendance goal.”

In essence, we both believe in the leverage of either threat as it can force constructive change. If the CCP balks, the specific follow through is one for debate, but it must have teeth. It warrants a discussion that must be had now, since this specific leverage held by America and our allies ends in ten months.

The bottom line is the amplification of human rights abuses and pernicious CCP global overreach cannot continue. Enough is enough! The next 300 days provide an opportunity for the United States and our Western allies to pressure a true reset in China’s bad behavior.

We have the leverage, so what are we waiting for?

Chris Fenton guest lectures for the “National Security & Sports” Course at The National War College each semester. He is an author, media executive, China expert, and U.S.-Asia Institute trustee. His memoir, FEEDING THE DRAGON: Inside the Trillion Dollar Dilemma Facing Hollywood, the NBA, & American Business, is on sale now. Website: www.feedingthedragonbook.com. Twitter: @TheDragonFeeder. Podcast: Feeding The Dragon.

Follow Captain Ray at @CoreyW_Ray

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are not an official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Image: Pixy / public domain