Remember the Beijing Olympics? You don’t want to hear this.

When it comes to behavior in the world of sports, the Chinese Communist Party is notoriously naughty. Now comes international outcry for the treatment of North Korean athletes during the Beijing Olympics of 2008….

Remember the Beijing Olympics? You don't want to hear this.

When it comes to behavior in the world of sports, the Chinese Communist Party is notoriously naughty. Now comes international outcry for the treatment of North Korean athletes during the Beijing Olympics of 2008. Why is this happening? Because the Communist Party is enraged that North Korea, a Communist dictatorship whose people are not allowed to freely choose their leaders, participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and because China considers the Kim family to be a useful counterweight to the U.S. influence in Northeast Asia.

Why is this happening? Because the Communist Party is enraged that North Korea, a Communist dictatorship whose people are not allowed to freely choose their leaders, participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and because China considers the Kim family to be a useful counterweight to the U.S. influence in Northeast Asia.

No doubt these legitimate worries ought to be kept in mind before the Beijing Olympics begin in Beijing in 2022. But these are the pot-shots taken at an event and an adversary that most people would never let stand alone. And frankly, I don’t remember “basketball diplomacy” being made an issue at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, during which Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were appropriately lauded for carrying their nation’s colors.

Given North Korea’s unpleasant citizenry, I can’t help thinking of something Michael Jordan might have said about North Korea while playing international hoops. “Let’s give it up,” he might have mused, “for the game, and for the IOC, which is a really nice doormat for the Chinese Communist Party.”

It doesn’t help, either, that while the international community is concerned about North Korea’s behavior, China has no intention of changing its behavior. But even without such public pressure on China, it’s going to take more than an eleventh-hour affair like the one where Pang Wei was thrown off the fencing team to give North Korea more respect to show that the Chinese Communist Party has a certain sense of fairness or lack thereof. It may also take increasingly forceful diplomatic means in countries with which the DPRK is not in a civil war.

If North Korea conducts provocative acts that receive global media attention—and that’s always a possibility—then the sports world might manage to throw up more signs of displeasure. As for whether China or the DPRK will change its behavior is really the central question. In other words, did the Olympics of Beijing 2008 do more harm than good to North Korea? Perhaps. But is it worth the price the international community has paid for doing so? Absolutely not.

Rosie DiManno is the Program Director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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