The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The world is awake to China’s and Russia’s malign ambitions

Chinese President Xi Jinping waves during the Closing Ceremonies of the 2022 Winter Olympics on Feb. 20 in Beijing. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

The world is fully awake to the malign ambitions of the new axis of evil from Tehran to Moscow to Beijing — and none too soon. That was the overlooked lesson in the rejection of the “Genocide Games” by audiences in the West.

These Olympics were a disaster for broadcaster NBC and the sponsors. Prime-time viewership plummeted more than 40 percent from four years ago, hitting record lows. Even the few ratings bright spots, such as the Canada-U.S. women’s hockey gold medal game, demonstrated that viewers were picking their spots in ways that made clear they were watching despite the host government.

I knew about the game only because my friend John Ondrasik told me he would be watching this single Olympic event. As demonstrated by the name of his band/brand, Five for Fighting, Ondrasik has a deep love of hockey. I do not share this particular bug, but of course 1980’s “Miracle on Ice” planted in every American a love of Olympic hockey that lasted for four-plus decades.

Not this year, though. Even a hardcore enthusiast such as Ondrasik was willing to tune in to only a single game, when the International Olympic Committee worked hand in glove with the Chinese Communist Party’s fanatical, totalitarian regime. “The fact TV sets were turned off in the huge North American market should send a message to the IOC in the only money that gets their attention,” wrote the Montreal Gazette’s Jack Todd. “If the 2022 Olympics drew an audience on this continent that was barely half that of 2018 in Korea, the time difference was not the problem. China’s appalling human-rights record was.”

The ratings failure of the Genocide Games made clear that China has become a pariah state, even though Hollywood, NBC, the NBA, all the corporate sponsors and Wall Street won’t admit this out loud. Like Russia, Iran and North Korea, China has become for most Americans a repulsive and deformed regime. Its ruling Communist Party is a nightmare for the people under its boot and increasingly for the world.

Anyone covering the Olympics who didn’t mention or who played down the human rights evils of this regime is complicit in the suffering in the Uyghur camps, the destruction of Tibet, the crushing of Hong Kong and the menacing of Taiwan. Citizens of China and Chinese expats around the world know the regime is fully Stalinist and will disappear anyone it needs to. The world should not have been there even if everyone knew it was about the money. The stain will never rub off the sponsors or the IOC.

But while Western governments haven’t been entirely silent, they have not called attention to political prisoners in China in the way they lifted up Soviet dissidents in the final years of that odious regime. Only the Uyghur camps are well known. Political prisoners such as Hong Kong’s Jimmy Lai essentially disappear into prison. During the Cold War, Americans knew of dissidents by their names: Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, Sharansky, Bukovsky and more. Lai might be the most visible of the CCP’s political prisoners, but if anyone heard his name in the United States in the past two weeks, it was likely by accident.

Another tyrant atop another regime — Vladimir Putin — has political prisoners, too, and those he has ordered assassinated. So does Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran. But again, the West does not seem to advocate for these victims and prisoners like the Cold War dissidents. Certainly the idea of billions of dollars in sanctions relief to Tehran would not have occurred to Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter. But President Biden’s national security team seems poised to follow up on the collapse in Afghanistan and the imminent conquest of Ukraine with a new “Iran deal,” completing a hat trick of capitulations with the worst appeasement yet.

If Putin topples the freely elected government of Ukraine, that government will go into exile and should, like the governments of the nations toppled by the Nazis, be recognized by the West as the legitimate government of that country for as long as it takes to return. Former national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien has been making this argument for weeks, and it’s starting to get traction. That’s not a “sanction” that Putin can calculate or ignore, but rather a signal — like the rejection of the Genocide Games — that the screw has turned in the West.