President Thomas Bach, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. -AP
The last time the Olympics came to China, he oversaw the whole endeavor. Now the Games are back, and this time Xi Jinping is running the entire nation.
The Chinese president, hosting a Winter Olympics beleaguered by complaints about human rights abuses, has upended tradition to restore strongman rule in China and tighten Communist Party control over the economy and society. Xi was in charge of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing that served as a "coming-out party" for China as an economic and political force. A second-generation member of the party elite, Xi became general secretary of the party in 2012. He took the ceremonial title of president the next year.
Xi spent his first five-year term atop the party making himself China's strongest leader at least since Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. Xi was dubbed "chairman of everything" after he put himself in charge of economic, propaganda and other major functions. That reversed a consensus for the ruling inner circle to avoid power struggles by sharing decision-making.
The party is crushing pro-democracy and other activism and tightening control over business and society. It has expanded surveillance of China's 1.4 billion people and control of business, culture, education and religion. A "social credit" system tracks every person and company and punishes infractions from pollution to littering.
Xi's rise coincides with increased assertiveness abroad following three decades of China keeping its head down to focus on economic development.
Xi wants China to be "the greatest country on Earth, widely admired and therefore followed," said Steve Tsang, a Chinese politics specialist at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.