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One way to tell how powerful a country is by how it responds to critics. Despite genocide against the Uyghur Muslims, unleashing a worldwide pandemic, and cracking down on freedoms in Hong Kong, China nonetheless hosted the 2022 Winter Olympics. And when critics arose, its ruling Communist Party spit in their eye by having a member of the Uyghurs light the Olympic flame, making a mockery of what is supposed to be a symbol “of peace and friendship between peoples” in front of the entire world.

China clearly isn’t scared of anyone. In fact, China may be the most powerful nation in the world. America’s military may be more advanced, and our economy larger, but China has intimidated the world’s top nations, corporations, and NGOs into letting it have its way. Hosting the Olympics was simply the public-relations affirmation of China’s decades spent amassing influence and power. Beijing rose patiently, first in politics and economics, then with improved technology and military capabilities.

If this sounds like a propaganda coup, that’s because it is. The Chinese Communist Party has its critics, but they know their limits. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently condemned the nation’s human rights atrocities, but she also urged U.S. athletes to be silent about human rights so that they wouldn’t go missing or end up dead. That’s a victory for China. It is so brutal that U.S. representatives are not safe speaking up about human rights.

China’s most significant PR victory is probably in the economic realm, where it has created enormous leverage through its massive buying power. Hollywood and the NBA claim to stand for human rights in the U.S., but they kowtow to China because they don’t want to risk billions in revenue. The same is true for Apple and Google, which previously stood against snooping and for privacy rights, except when China demanded they change their practices. And both Airbus and Boeing are providing planes to the Chinese government and to Chinese companies, despite providing military services and products to the U.S. and other Western nations.

Like any bully, China doesn’t always have to go public to get its way. Sometimes it does, such as when it ordered Delta Airlines to stop acknowledging Tibet and Taiwan as separate nations – an order Delta was only too happy to accommodate. Other times, it gives a nudge from behind the scenes, letting alleged “tough guy” John Cena abase himself in Mandarin for saying Taiwan was a separate nation.

The world often treats Chinese propaganda, theft, and economic warfare quite different from how it reacts to actions by other nations. And who can blame them? Criticism against Israel, Syria, or the U.S. won’t result in overwhelming economic, military, digital, and propaganda warfare. All Australia did was demand an inquiry into China’s involvement in the pandemic, and it has been forced to withstand major economic boycotts. Lithuania chose to respect Taiwan as a separate nation, leading China to threaten economic sanctions against the tiny nation. 

A rational person would think that the pandemic would have been enough cause for countries to deny communists the propaganda victory of hosting the Olympics. The USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan led 65 nations to boycott the 1980 Olympics; but this year, just a few nations declined to send official representatives despite genocide and millions of pandemic-related deaths. Then again, when you’ve allowed China to dictate world policy on the UN Security Council and lie to the World Health Organization about the pandemic, such weakness isn’t all that surprising.

When you’re the biggest player in an industry, you can often ignore your critics. Journalists, activists, and human rights leaders have long condemned China on everything from forced abortion and religious discrimination to espionage and intellectual property theft, but China simply plows forward. Like any successful organization, it has spent the time to build an infrastructure which can overwhelm the competition, withstand opposition, and win the messaging war. The Olympics was a PR coup for one of the world’s most heinous, and powerful, regimes – but if spreading a deadly pandemic couldn’t bring the world’s corporations and nations to unite against China, the Chinese Communist Party’s climb to the top isn’t over.

Dustin Siggins is a business columnist and founder of the publicity firm Proven Media Solutions.