China's sustainable development commitment demonstrated by green, clean Winter Olympics
Published: Feb 10, 2022 12:24 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The world witnessed a spectacular Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing, barely six months after the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. This must have been the shortest interval between two modern Olympic Games, unenviably caused by the continued worldwide ravaging coronavirus pandemic. 

Indeed, it is no less a miracle that the Olympic Games still help under such unprecedented and challenging circumstances.  Beijing is admittedly no stranger to the Olympics, having held the Summer Olympic Games in 2008.  Those were jubilant times leading up to the Games, as Beijing undertook the construction of its spankingly new national stadium, dubbed the Bird Nest, and the bluish National Aquatics Centre, colloquially known as the Water Cube, as well as many other sports facilities. 

I still vividly remember having been repeatedly invited to tour the lightning progress of those gargantuan  construction projects almost on a quarterly basis as I attended official functions in Beijing then. Like many other enthusiastic observers, I marveled at the massive scale and the impressive proceedings of the Summer Games.

But emphasis and priorities have of course shifted both for China and for the world in the nearly a decade and a half since. While the 2008 Summer Olympics could in a sense be mainly viewed as the debuting party for China on world stage, the 2022 Winter Olympics has arguably come to assume two equally important roles.

For one, these Winter Olympic Games signify China's renewed confidence while showcasing its profound achievements as a leading developing country.  The opening ceremony, for example, was not only phantasmagoric as was, frankly, to be expected of such extravaganzas; it was also largely green.  As I understand it, the Winter Olympic torch was not technically "lit" in a traditional sense at the opening ceremony, but was made to shine in a low-carbon and environmentally friendly manner.  On a larger scale, the electricity consumed in all the Winter Olympic venues in and around Beijing was generated by means of renewable energy. The insistence and emphasis on a green and clean Winter Olympic Games underscore China's commitment to sustainable development.  This sort of voluntary assumption of responsibility toward sustainability lands China well as a role model for many other developing nations as they try to balance developmental needs and environmental preservation, against a background of undeniably worsening climate change that has caused many abnormal natural disasters. 

Moreover, these latest Olympic Games in Beijing may have involuntarily been put into a position to demonstrate how to safely and productively work and progress in an environment where the pandemic periodically raises its ugly head both globally and locally. Pandemic precautions necessitate the physical sequestration of the athletes and other accredited Winter Olympics participants from the local population at large.  They, for example, have to be bused from one sporting venue to another in sealed vehicles.  This was also the case in Tokyo last summer.  Admittedly mainly absent from these last two rounds of Olympic Games were the crowded stadiums and raucous cheers and boos as fans from around the world rooted for their favorite athletes and teams, as they did at the Beijing Summer Olympics. The audience sizes are by necessity understandably smaller, and the athletes would have to go through virus-detection tests before they step into the arenas to compete.  But these are a frankly small price to pay for safety in times of pandemic distress. The precautions validate safely and successfully holding the Olympic Games, where athletes who trained for years or even decades can finally present their best in achieving the "higher, faster, stronger - together" ideals of the Olympics.  

Of course, togetherness is perhaps admittedly a tough goal to score, even for the Olympic Games. A number of countries, led primarily by the US, decided to send only their athletes and not senior officials.  To be blunt, as contestations among superpowers continue to heat up around the globe even during these difficult pandemic times, such manifestations of ideological differences are likely to crop up from time to time, and will expectedly arise in future Olympic Games. China just has to face up to such geopolitical realities and continue to demonstrate to the rest of the world its ability to not only live up to but build on the Olympic ideals.

The Winter Olympics are, almost by definition, mainly participated in by those countries with distinct seasonal changes.  For tropical countries like Malaysia where it either rains or shines with relatively high temperatures, athletic participation in the Winter Olympics are token at best.  But this year Malaysia sends two promising athletes with realistic shots at the medals.  But in any case, the world is watching keenly over the next 10 days as Beijing hosts these green, clean and, most crucially, safe Olympic Games.

The author is a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn opinion@globaltimes.com.cn