Monday, January 3, 2011

WikiLeak shows Chinese pride and sticker shock over 2008 Games

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell outside the Bird's Nest during the Beijing Olympics in 2008. A U.S. government memo says Chinese leader Hu Jintao was the real host of the 2008 Games.

Chinese were proud of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but shocked and embarrassed by the $40 billion cost. Of course, there was little they could do about the cost. Even talking about it was a risky proposition.

The United States' embassy in Beijing was listening and issued this confidential cable on Sept. 2, 2008, just over two weeks after the dazzling closing ceremony at the Bird's Nest. The cable was published by WikiLeaks on Dec. 28, 2010 and explores how the Chinese Communist Party used the Games to increase its profile. The cable concludes: "It was clear to everyone that Hu Jintao was the real host of the Olympics."

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell was in Beijing and watching closely. You could say he tried to be the host of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

DE RUEHBJ #3385/01 2461030
O 021030Z SEP 08


E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/02/2033

Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Aubrey Carlson
for reasons 1.4 (B/D).


¶1. (C) China's top leadership and a sizeable majority
of the Chinese public view the recent Beijing-hosted
Olympic Games as a great success, according to Embassy
contacts. Most academics and journalists we spoke
with in the week following the August 24 closing
ceremony told us the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is
enjoying an increase in legitimacy as a result.
However, several of the contacts warned that these
gains are tempered by widespread resentment of the
"excessive" costs of hosting the Games. Some
interlocutors believe Politburo Standing Committee
members Xi Jinping, who was in charge of overall
Olympic preparations, and Zhou Yongkang, responsible
for internal security, have benefited politically from
pulling off an Olympics free of serious disruption.
Others feel President Hu Jintao is the biggest winner
from the Games. End summary.

Boost to Party Legitimacy...

¶2. (C) The central leadership views the recent
Beijing-hosted Olympics as a great success that has
given the regime a boost in legitimacy, according to
numerous contacts we spoke with in the days following
the August 24 closing ceremony. Dong Lisheng
(protect), a political scientist at the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences, told PolOff the Games "far
exceeded" the expectations of top-level Party leaders,
who welcomed the public's nationalistic response as a
boost for Party legitimacy. Freelance journalist Chen
Jieren (protect), who is the nephew of Politburo
Standing Committee member He Guoqiang, said "70
percent" of the public supported the Games. For most
Chinese, Chen said, the Olympics were about "standing
up" and winning the world's respect and were thus
successful. Chen Hao (protect), Executive Editor-in-
Chief of the International Herald Leader, a newspaper
run by the Xinhua News Agency, said the Olympics
represent a clear "political achievement" (zheng ji)
for the Party that will make it easier for the central
leadership to implement its policies in the coming
months. Professor Su Hao (protect), of China Foreign
Affairs University (CFAU), offered a similar
assessment, saying that the success of the Games
resulted in a "large boost in legitimacy" for the
government and a surge of national pride.

...but Resentment over Costs

¶3. (C) While contacts generally agreed the Olympics
will boost public support for the Communist Party,
many of our interlocutors cautioned that any
legitimacy gains are diluted by wide-spread criticism
over the excessive expense of hosting (which was
announced as over USD 40 billion, including
infrastructure investment). Wu Yin (protect), Vice
President of the public opinion polling firm Horizon,
told PolOff August 28 that many Beijingers believe
hosting the Olympics has accelerated the rise in fuel
and food prices. Strict security, Wu continued,
dampened public enthusiasm during the Games and there
is lingering disappointment that the much-anticipated
economic benefits to Beijing's service industry failed
to materialize. In the end, Wu argued, gains in
public support for the Party will be minimal, at best.
Guan Renfeng (protect), a graduate student at Xinjiang
University who visited Beijing during the final
weekend of the Games, told PolOff August 25 that he is
proud of his country's Olympics effort but he gives
the government an "A minus" rather than an A "because
they spent too much money." Guangming Ribao editor
Dong Yuyu (protect) commented that while the majority
of Chinese "reflexively" support the Olympics and feel
proud, the public feels uneasy about excessive
government spending. Dong said many Chinese, had they
been given a choice, would have supported spending
these resources on education and health care rather
than hosting the Olympics. Niu Xinchun (protect), a
scholar at the Ministry of State Security-affiliated
Chinese Institutes of Contemporary International
Relations (CICIR), told PolOff August 25 that a
"significant portion" of the Chinese public resents

BEIJING 00003385 002 OF 002

the enormous costs of hosting the Games. CFAU's Su,
however, felt such concerns over spending are
overblown, noting that the cost of the Olympics was
just a small percentage of China's total GDP.

Central Dissatisfaction with BOCOG

¶4. (C) Ding Kuisong (protect), Vice Chairman of the
CCP Party School-affiliated think tank China Reform
Forum, said Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) Member
and Vice President Xi Jinping was placed in charge of
the overall Olympics effort due, in part, to high-
level dissatisfaction with missteps by the Beijing
Organizing Committee for the Games of the 29th
Olympiad (BOCOG). BOCOG's alleged mistakes included
agreeing "without sufficient coordination" to global
torch relay routes that were "inappropriate." Ding
said Xi, and even CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao,
personally made many Olympics-related decisions,
including logistical arrangements for President Bush's
attendance at the opening ceremony. Dissident scholar
Liu Junning (protect), told PolOff September 2 that
he, too, had heard of tension between BOCOG and the
central leadership over the torch relay fiasco, but
Liu said it was always the plan to have the Central
Government take the lead role in the final weeks.

Olympic Victory for Xi Jinping, Zhou Yongkang

¶5. (C) Chen Jieren told PolOff that both Xi Jinping
and fellow PBSC member Zhou Yongkang, who is in charge
of China's security apparatus, benefited politically
from the Games. Overseeing the Olympics was the first
major assignment for Xi since being promoted to the
PBSC in October 2007. While Chen said that some of
Xi's rivals at the top may have secretly hoped that Xi
would stumble, the success of the Games has, in fact,
burnished Xi's image. Zhou Yongkang, meanwhile, is
now "exceptionally powerful," Chen said. Zhou had
already received a great deal of praise following the
Sichuan earthquake due to the quick response of
security forces, Chen explained, and the lack of a
major security incident at the Olympics further
strengthened Zhou's standing. Dong Lisheng, of CASS,
largely echoed Chen's comments, saying Xi passed his
first major test as a top-level leader.

Hu Jintao and Collective Leadership the Real Winners
--------------------------------------------- -------

¶6. (C) Guangming Ribao editor Dong Yuyu concurred that
Zhou is very powerful and his stock is rising because
of his performance over the last year and during the
Olympics. However, Dong did not agree that Xi
Jinping's political stature had risen as a result of
his Olympics assignment. According to Dong, the
Party's Central Secretariat assumed overall management
of the Games and it was "natural" for Xi, as head of
the Secretariat, to take the leading role. Moreover,
Xi still coordinated all Olympic decisions with the
rest of the Politburo Standing Committee. If
anything, Dong argued, the Olympics was a "collective"
triumph for the entire Party leadership, not just Xi.
Liu Junning agreed, saying Hu Jintao, not Xi Jinping,
is the main beneficiary of the Olympics given Hu's
prominence during the Games. (Note: In addition to
hosting world leaders and presiding over the opening
ceremony, Hu made high-profile appearances at several
events.) "It was clear to everyone that Hu Jintao was
the real host of the Olympics," Liu said.

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