China On The Eve Of The Winter Olympics: Hard Choices For The World’s Democracies

Monday, January 31, 2022
Hoover Institution, Stanford University

The Hoover Project on China’s Global Sharp Power invites you to China on the Eve of the Winter Olympics: Hard Choices for the World’s Democracies on Monday, January 31, 2022 from 10:00 am - 11:30 am PT.

As China prepares to host the Winter Olympics, its economy is slowing, its real estate sector is in crisis, and its push for regional dominance is alarming its neighbors. At the 20th Party Congress this October, Xi Jinping is expected to win a third term as China’s ruler. What do these developments portend for China and the world, and how should the United States respond?


The Hoover Institution’s Project on China’s Global Sharp Power, cochaired by Senior Fellow Larry Diamond and Research Fellow Glenn Tiffert, presented a virtual program about the current state of China’s domestic policies, the international ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and what these mean for democratic trends worldwide on the eve of that country’s Winter Olympics. The program—which demonstrated unity throughout the represented policy community on threats posed by Beijing to the liberal international order—featured a keynote presentation by George Soros, founder and chair of the Open Society Foundations, followed by a panel discussion with Matt Pottinger, Hoover distinguished visiting fellow, and Oriana Skylar Mastro, center fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. The program was opened by Tiffert and moderated by Diamond. Orville Schell, the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on US–China Relations at the Asia Society, provided introductory remarks for Soros.

Soros said that China’s president, Xi Jinping, will use the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing as a platform for spreading propaganda about the superiority of China’s authoritarian style of government. He explained that beneath such confidence, China faces several vulnerabilities, including a declining working population and a volatile real estate market, that may result in a full-blown economic crisis. Moreover, Soros maintained that the CCP leadership has failed to contain the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, despite the rollout of vaccines and draconian lockdown policies. He argued that poor management of the COVID-19 crisis could spur a popular revolt and ultimately lead to the demise of Xi’s leadership. Soros asserted that although China has enhanced military capabilities and might use force if necessary to reunite democratic Taiwan with the mainland, it will confront tough resistance from the United States and Indo-Pacific allies, which are fully committed to protecting the small island nation.

During the panel discussion, Pottinger asserted that Xi will do everything he can to stay in power for life. However, he noted that past autocracies that Xi’s singular rule imitates have normally endured short life spans. Pottinger did not agree with Soros’s argument that Xi could be removed from power through popular revolt. He said it was more probable that Xi’s abdication would result from an intraparty conflict instigated by disaffected elites.

Mastro asserted that the United States has tended to overestimate the vulnerabilities and insecurities of dictators like Xi. She explained, for example, that Xi’s consolidation of power has made him especially effective at rooting out corruption in the People’s Liberation Army and developing within that organization a professional and loyal military class and improvements in force capabilities.

Both Pottinger and Mastro maintained that Xi has embraced Maoism and commanded party functionaries to promulgate the ideology through the country’s political and social institutions. Xi has even cited the CCP founder’s own words about expressing no hesitation to ruin the country and rebuild it for the sake of maintaining ideological purity. Pottinger explained that Beijing was willing to dismantle Hong Kong’s liberal system of governance even though it was providing enormous economic benefits to the Communist Party regime.

Pottinger and Mastro also discussed the state of US military and technological competition with China. Pottinger believes that China is overly ambitious in its objective of reuniting with Taiwan because, unlike the United States, it hasn’t fought a full-scale war in the past two decades and has yet to fully realize its military’s limitations. Pottinger and Mastro agreed that China’s increased defense capabilities have enabled it to more effectively deter military action by the United States and allies on behalf of Taiwan. They maintained that if the US were to act in defense of Taiwan, it would have to devote significant assets, personnel, and effort and thus shift its focus away from other conflict arenas in the world.

Finally, both Pottinger and Mastro advocated that the US government discourage American companies, such as those specializing in the manufacturing of semiconductors, to stop selling to Communist China these and other cutting-edge products that would enhance its military’s capabilities. 


George Soros is the founder of Soros Fund Management and the founder and chair of the Open Society Foundations. He began his philanthropic work in 1979 with scholarships for Black African university students in South Africa and for East European dissidents to study in the West. He has given away more than $32bn to advance rights and justice across the world.

Matt Pottinger is a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. Pottinger served the White House for four years in senior roles on the National Security Council staff, including as deputy national security advisor from 2019 to 2021. In that role, he coordinated the full spectrum of national security policy. He previously served as senior director for Asia, where he led the administration’s work on the Indo-Pacific region, in particular its shift on China policy.

Oriana Skylar Mastro is a center fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University where her research focuses on Chinese military and security policy, war termination, and coercive diplomacy. She is also a non-resident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Dr. Skylar Mastro continues to serve in the United States Air Force Reserve for which she works as a strategic planner at INDOPACOM. She holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Stanford University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University.


Larry Diamond is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, ​Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), and a Bass University Fellow in Undergraduate Education at Stanford University. He co-chairs the Hoover Institution’s programs on China’s Global Sharp Power and on Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific Region.


Glenn Tiffert is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a historian of modern China. He co-chairs the Hoover project on China’s Global Sharp Power and works closely with government and civil society partners to document and build resilience against authoritarian interference with democratic institutions. Most recently, he co-authored and edited Global Engagement: Rethinking Risk in the Research Enterprise (2020).


Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society and former dean and professor at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Schell is the author of ten books about China, including most recently Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-first Century (2013).

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