April 18, 2021 | New York Post

Athletes have good reason to beware Xi Jinping’s Beijing Winter Olympics

April 18, 2021 | New York Post

Athletes have good reason to beware Xi Jinping’s Beijing Winter Olympics

There are growing calls to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing or to ­relocate the event to a different nation. It isn’t hard to see why, given China’s aggression in the Indo-Pacific region, horrific human-rights abuses and crushing of rule of law in Hong Kong — not to mention the Beijing ­regime’s duplicitous handling of the pandemic.

Yet opponents often shoot back, “Yes, but what about the athletes? Isn’t a boycott unfair to them?”

This is nonsense. If Olympics boss Thomas Bach cared about the athletes, he wouldn’t make them go to Beijing next year. Even beyond the concern, shared by many athletes, of lending their good names to a brutal regime seeking to burnish its bloodied reputation, there are practical reasons why competing in China is a bad idea.

Simply put, the Chinese Communist Party subscribes to a doctrine called “unrestricted warfare” that justifies accomplishing goals by any means, legal or illegal, moral or immoral; athletics is one more battlefield.

The party is determined to win as many medals as possible — ideally, all of them. To the Chinese, racking up medals is one more way to prove the superiority of their system. And justifying the system calls for a range of “win-at-all-costs” behavior, including subjecting child athletes to physical and psychological abuse.

For the Communist Party, the event is also a sort of high-end trade show, where each country unveils its best competitors and its cutting-edge gear in an ­environment controlled by Beijing. Given the party’s goal of “winning” in all sectors and ­dimensions, athletes must expect a number of unpleasant factors. These include:

1) Intellectual-property theft. Highly sophisticated technologies pervade sports these days. Costly research in physics, aerodynamics, composites and the like goes into the manufacture of the skis, luges, snowboards and skates. That research has value beyond athletics: Lightweight winter clothing, for example, is as useful for cold-weather warfare as it is for cross-country skiing. It is with such an “unrestricted” eye that Chinese officials will view the tech set to arrive next year.

As it is, moreover, the party hacks just about every visitor on its soil. Athletes should expect hacking of phones, tablets and computers — anything of potential info-war value. Olympic-level training is often computerized, and those programs might be useful to the People’s Liberation Army for training soldiers to ­operate efficiently under extreme conditions.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Beijing requires participants to download an official Olympics app that surreptitiously provides it with access and tracking.

2) Genetic theft. The Olympics will bring some of the world’s most genetically blessed people to China. For the Communist Party, their very bodies are another valuable data source. A February 2021 report by the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center noted: “The PRC views bulk personal data, including health-care and genomic data, as a strategic commodity to be collected and used for its economic and national-security priorities.”

In December 2020, then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe wrote: “China has even conducted human testing on members of the People’s Liberation Army in hope of developing soldiers with biologically ­enhanced capabilities. There are no ethical boundaries to Beijing’s pursuit of power.”

Would the party try to collect genetic samples from the Olympians, under the guise of COVID-19 precautions or drug testing? What do you think?

3) Future leverage. Olympians are a competitive lot, and some go on to great things in other industries. When they get there, they might suddenly find out that Beijing knows a lot more about them than they expected, given that they may have been hacked and tracked from at least 2022.

Bottom line: While the world’s greatest athletes are in China, they can and should expect the party to steal anything it can. That stolen data will be used in any way that can benefit the Beijing regime in sports, in business — or on the battlefield.

Olympians have been preparing for this moment for years, even decades. If we care about them, we should find a venue for them to compete where the hosts aren’t just waiting for a chance to rob them — and to dominate their nations.

Cleo Paskal is a nonresident senior fellow for the Indo-Pacific at the Foundation for Defense of ­Democracies in Washington. Follow her on Twitter @CleoPaskal. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

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China Indo-Pacific International Organizations