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Editorial: Slick Beijing Olympics leave no room to see citizenry's true face

The eyes of the world are trained on China as it hosts the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

    Chinese President Xi Jinping has touted the Games as an opportunity to "give a favorable impression of our country and improve soft power."

    At the Olympic venues split off from the outside world as part of coronavirus prevention measures, robots bring in the food. Shopping can be done with digital yuan. The impression is of a Games employing high-tech methods.

    At the opening ceremony, a large Olympic cauldron was eschewed in favor of one using the torch instead, embodying the 2022 Games' principles of simplicity and consideration for the environment.

    With China perhaps conscious of criticism from the U.S. and Europe over human rights issues, deeply political theatrics have also caught the eye. An athlete from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region was among the final torchbearers in the torch relay -- an appearance praised by the Chinese government as "showing the people's unity."

    The form of China that its government wants to portray appears to be condensed in its vibrant competition venues. Take a step outside them, and the coronavirus prevention measures in addition to information control make it hard to see the citizenry's true face.

    Authorities are keeping an eye out for speech critical of the system. Private exchanges on social media are not exempt, either.

    Human rights campaigners and others have reportedly been subject to pressure not to disseminate information during the Games. In Hong Kong, individuals who planned demonstration activities against the Olympics have been arrested on suspicion of inciting moves to overthrow the government.

    There have also been instances around the venues of foreign media outlets attempting to report from the streets, only to be forcibly stopped mid-broadcast by security-related officials.

    The stance of trying not to show any inconvenient, bad information is in reality at odds with President Xi's stated aim of a "trusted China." With divisions between Beijing and the U.S. and Europe growing, this Winter Olympics should really be treated as a good chance to open up to the world and deepen mutual understanding.

    The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing were an opportunity for wide-ranging relaxations on controls on foreign journalists. Both in and out of the country, the opening up of its society was praised as "an expression of China's confidence."

    In front of reporters from across the world, President Xi has in the past said that he is "not looking just for praise, but objective advice, too." But these words do not appear to be reflected in the way the Olympics are being managed.

    If China is to style itself as a major power, shouldn't a degree of openness to hearing critical and opposing viewpoints also be sought?

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