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The gold medal for anti-Beijing hysteria goes to the NYT for its unhinged attack on China’s Olympic success

Tom Fowdy
Tom Fowdy

is a British writer and analyst of politics and international relations with a primary focus on East Asia.

is a British writer and analyst of politics and international relations with a primary focus on East Asia.

The gold medal for anti-Beijing hysteria goes to the NYT for its unhinged attack on China’s Olympic success
Not even China’s sporting excellence can pass without comment in the United States, as a highly critical article in the New York Times on Thursday demonstrated. It’s typical of the hysteria culture that’s now rife in America.

On Thursday, the NYT published an astonishing article titled ‘The Chinese Sports Machine’s Single Goal: The Most Golds At Any Cost’. The piece effectively claimed China had rigged the Olympics for political purposes, accusing it of “putting tens of thousands of children in government-run training schools” and funnelling young athletes into “less prominent sports that Beijing hopes to dominate.” The prize? To earn as many gold medals as possible, in the process scoring political points and bringing glory to their country.

And no, it was not a parody.

While the medal table is turning out to be fiercely fought between the United States and China, both of whom have a rich Olympic history, the article was patronizing, ridiculous, and just outright insulting to the Chinese Olympians who dedicate their lives towards competing and excelling in their chosen events (as does any athlete from anywhere in the world).

If you accepted the New York Times’ view, you would think they have no incentive, ambition or purpose of their own to participate, but rather are content to be mere tools of the state.

More than that, though, the piece is inherently ironic and totally lacking in self-awareness, given there is arguably no other country in the world that is more competitive and pursuant of sporting supremacy than the US.

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It’s easy to conjure up in our minds the stereotypical image of a US high-school jock who likes to be ‘the best’ at everything and hates to lose. He might not be representative of real US athletes, who are probably as humble, hardworking, and honourable as any others. But he’s undeniably a representation of the ‘collective psychology’ of American sporting culture, both at home and abroad.

That isn’t the point here, though. Sport is sport, and may the most deserving athletes win, wherever they are from. The fact that the New York Times could produce such an utterly dreadful article on China is not surprising, yet it is endemic of a broader trend in US media, which – in line with the government’s foreign policy – has become as negative, vilifying and outright hysterical as possible.

Is it any wonder why people in China have come to increasingly despise foreign reporting? The big three US newspapers in particular – the NYT, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal – spew an endless daily conveyor belt of anti-Chinese stories which seek to nitpick, discredit, and attack every single development within the country, often on utterly ridiculous premises.

For one small, but not exclusive, example, recent coverage reveals an obsession with hammering a narrative that China's vaccines don’t work.

Now, we’re seeing the suggestion that China's achievements at the Olympics ought to be discredited as some brutal political conspiracy which deliberately streamlines athletes into irrelevant sports – sports only Americans consider irrelevant, of course – and therefore, they don’t count.

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The ludicrousness of this coverage is not about who comes out on top in Tokyo, although the New York Times’ medal table, which ranks nations by total medals won rather than golds – and so has America top – might have you believe otherwise. No, it is more a representation as to how the US has utterly lost its mind when it comes to China, across all of its media and political classes. America is increasingly insecure and stung to the point that mainstream commentators can’t even bear China doing well at sports, which is bizarre given that the US has no reasons to feel inferior here.

While ‘hysteria culture’ in the US is rampant, not least when it comes to the appropriation of the government’s foreign policy priorities – such as the legacy of McCarthyism, or how an excessive fear of terrorism was used to illegally wage war in Iraq – the China challenge is unique, because it is projecting genuine insecurity into America’s collective sense of esteem concerning its own place and status in the world.

This phenomenon is not so much grounded in a direct fear of imminent attack, as it is the perception that a country that may overtake it and outgrow it, ending a default perception that America always ought to dominate the world and shape it to its own direction. In a nutshell, it’s a question of hegemony and a belief that hegemony is normality.

Slogans such as ‘Make America Great Again!’ and ‘America is Back!’ reflect the innate thinking that the US has lost something and has to regain its place in the world. China is perceived to be the primary reason for this, and so is subsequently used as a scapegoat for all of America’s domestic woes.

Therefore, the answer is always containment and a bipartisan foreign policy that is increasingly unhinged, as I have commented on previously. Amid the hysteria, America has lost its ability to reason and shown a total inability to understand the world as it is, as opposed to how it would like it to be.

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The result of America’s insecurity is the ridiculously negative coverage of China and an obsession with geopolitical competition and smear tactics in all domains. Everything – from vaccines, to the Olympics, to trade, to technology – is being framed into a zero-sum, uncompromising political struggle, where China's successes have to be scrutinized and aptly discredited at all costs.

Over the past two years, the ‘threat’ of China has taken up space, rent free, inside America's head, and rarely has there been a more perfect demonstration of this than this utterly childish New York Times hit job.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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