China’s bid for recognition as a global superpower in sports seemed back on track Sunday, after Chinese athletes in diving, shooting and weightlifting claimed gold medals at the summer Olympic games in Rio.
Those victories followed a shaky start for China at this year’s games, leading some to wonder momentarily whether China’s prowess as an Olympic juggernaut may be faltering in tandem with the declining fortunes of the economy. Some of China’s strongest contenders failed to produce gold medals on Opening Day.
Sunday’s wins brought the total number of Chinese medals to eight, putting the Middle Kingdom in second place in country rankings behind the United States, which boasted 12 medals, three of them gold.
China’s first gold medalist in Rio, Zhang Mengxue, won the women’s 10-meter air pistol competition. Later in the day, Wu Minxia and Shi Tingmao claimed gold with a mesmerizing victory in the women’s synchronized three-meter springboard diving. China’s Long Qingquan hefted a combined world record of 307kg to take home the gold in the men’s 56kg weightlifting.
A commentary by China’s state-run Xinhua news service described results of the opening days as “not horrible.” But that’s not how things looked on Saturday, when swimming star Sun Yang lost out to Australian Mack Horton in the 400-meter freestyle competition, and the Chinese men’s basketball team suffered a crushing 119-62 defeat by Team USA.
In the swimming event, Sun, a double gold medal winner in the London Olympics, was widely touted as the favorite. Horton beat him by a 13th of a second. Before the race, Sun’s rivalry with Horton had erupted into personal grudge match. In a press conference, Horton had deflected questions about whether Sun had tried to taunt him by splashing water on him the practice pool last week by declaring that he had “no time or respect for drug cheats.” The remark was a clear dig at Sun, who was secretly banned from competition for three months in 2014 for using stimulants.
In China, Horton’s comments provoked an outcry on social media. Many Chinese fumed that Horton deliberately sought to rattle Sun ahead of the race–a charge Horton himself seems to have acknowledged after his victory. In comments to reporters after the race, Horton called Sun a “drug cheat” again win Sun sitting right next to him. Sun later burst into tears while trying to give an interview. In China, video of the sobbing swimmer, with the hashtag “Sun Yang Don’t Cry,” went immediately viral. On Xinhua, China’s state news service, the manager of China’s swim team declared Horton’s comments had “greatly hurt the feelings between Chinese and Australian swimmers” and displayed a “lack of good manners and upbringing.” Some Chinese fans took to the Internet to issue death threats against Horton; one wished that he would be “killed by a kangaroo.”
China’s victories also were overshadowed by a brouhaha over the flags hoisted behind its gold medal winners. Chinese national flag features five gold stars against a red background – one large star and four smaller stars arrayed to its right in a semi-circle. But as Chinese observers were quick to detect, flags raised behind the podiums at Rio showed the smaller stars with their points arrayed horizontally rather than along a radius from top to bottom. China Central Television pointed out the blunder online. The Rio Olympics Committee has issued a formal apology to China. There has been widespread speculation even in the Chinese press that the flawed flags — like many of the uniforms and much of the equipment used in staging the Rio games — was made in China.
The Chinese government spends vast sums to ensure a high medal count in the summer Olympics. Its performance at the games has risen in tandem with its booming economy. Since the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, when China overtook as a sports powerhouse, China has consistently finished second to the United States in the overall medal rankings.
Analysts at Goldman Sachs predict this year the US will claim 106 medals at the Olympics, including 45 gold medals, while China will claim 89 total medals, of which 36 are expected to be gold. In the 2012 summer Olympics in London, the US won 103 medals, including 46 gold, while China won 88 medals, of which 38 were gold.
Xi and the CCP gather by the sea….
While the rest of the world is focused on the games in Rio, the upper elite of China Communist Party will be huddled this week in Beidaihe, a resort town on China’s northern Bohai Sea, for a different kind of completion. Technically, the gathering of the Party’s Central Committee each fall is China’s most important political assembly. But in practice, party’s informal summer retreat to Bedaihe is where the real decisions of politics and policy are made. This year as last, economic issues will be high on the agenda, and China watchers will be looking closely for signs of tensions between president Xi Jinping and premier Li Keying, who in recent months have seemed to favor different approaches on crucial economic policy issues such as dealing with local government debt and privatization of China’s state-owned enterprises.
A China Syndrome for Apple?
Have iPhones lost their cachet among Chinese consumers? The Financial Times over the weekend joins the growing chorus of Western analysts and media speculating that Apple’s glory days in China are over. “A drop in revenues in the country by a third last quarter signaled to some that the company’s capacity to dazzle smart for shoppers has been diminished amid stiffer competition from cheaper local competitors producing more technologically advanced devices.”
China warns UK’s Theresa May not to delay approval of Chinese investment in Hinkley Point nuclear power plant
China has told Britain’s new prime minister Theresa May that it does not consider national security concerns as an acceptable rationale for delaying the approval Chinese investment in the controversial Hinkley Point nuclear plant. May’s predecessor, David Cameron, eagerly courted Chinese investment in the facility and hailed it as it as an example of the beginning of a “golden era” in economic relations between the two countries.