Tuesday, May 6, 2008

China Will Get the Olympics It Deserves

Rendering of the Water Cube aquatic facility and Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing.

By way of Tommy Forr.

From former chief speech writer for George W. Bush and ND alum, Bill McGurn:

Too bad there's not an Olympic medal for getting your argument backward. If there were, the People's Republic of China might have to share the gold with those agitating for a boycott.

With fewer than 100 days to go before the opening ceremonies, Chinese officials want outsiders to stop using the Olympics to bring up what a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman calls "irrelevant political factors." By irrelevant political factors, she means China's suppression of Tibet, its weapons sales to the Sudanese government, its indifference to the God-given rights of its own citizens, etc. If people would just stop bringing these things up, the Olympics that the world will see on television would be the same fantasy that you see on those propaganda billboards featuring happy Chinese citizens appreciative of the care and concern they receive from the people's government.

Now, it is true that in the three decades since China opened its economy up to the world, life has changed in good and important ways for the Chinese people. Yet what the Chinese government does not seem to understand is that the flip side to increased trade and investment from the outside world is increased interest in, say, your policy of forced abortions for women who get pregnant without official permission.

To put it another way, by agreeing to stage the Olympics, the government has also given a world stage to anyone with a grievance. In a country whose actions have life or death consequences for people from Darfur to North Korea – and whose rule over one billion people is without the benefit of free elections – that adds up to a lot of grievances.

The government also seems not to have appreciated the potential consequences of having world leaders on hand for the opening ceremonies. President Bush has said he is going, and the Chinese are pleased. Yet if something were to go wrong – more bloodshed in Tibet, an unseemly squashing of protesters in or around the Olympic village – the president could not be silent.

This is a man who invited Hong Kong's Roman Catholic Cardinal to the White House residence over Chinese objections, who met with Chinese human-rights activist Rebiya Kadeer at a conference for dissidents in Prague, and who has consistently spoken out for freedom while on Chinese soil. It should also be sobering for the Chinese to recall that it was the presence of Mikhail Gorbachev in Beijing in 1989 that helped transform what might have been just another brutal Chinese crackdown into a world-televised event.

Those pushing for a boycott might want to reconsider their position as well. Granted, there is something maddening about watching a spectacle like the Olympics, where all those attending have to operate under the pretense that China is like any other normal country. Or reading the official pabulum about how the journey of the Olympic torch illustrates the "Chinese aspiration for world peace and a better world."

The consoling thought is that the troubles that accompanied the Olympic torch on its journey, and the attendant coverage, remind us of something we can easily forget amid the incredible economic advances that have made China's skylines look so sleek and modern: This is anything but a normal country.

Without the Olympics, would anyone pay attention to activists pointing out China's contributions to the suffering in Darfur? Without the Olympics, would the plight of Tibetans be on our front pages? And without the Olympics – and the prodding from President Bush – would the Chinese even consider meeting with what they so charmingly call "the Dalai Lama clique"?

None of these issues will be resolved easily or overnight. But the Beijing Olympics have given people trying to bring these issues to the world's attention a platform they would never otherwise have.

As for the Chinese people, their reaction is also understandable. For most Chinese, the occasions for national pride or unity have been few and far between. So even people you might expect to be immune can surprise you.

When NATO accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Serbia in 1999, a leader from the Democratic Party of Hong Kong – a courageous man whom Beijing constantly tried to undermine and who regularly asked America for help in getting China to keep its promises to the territory – appeared outside the U.S. consulate denouncing what he called "a very serious affront to Chinese sovereignty."

Seven years ago, when the International Olympic Committee announced that Beijing would be host for the 2008 Games, I wrote in these pages that while I would not have chosen China, I was not discomfited by the prospect of several thousand foreign reporters and all manner of dissidents using the media attention to press their causes. "For all the celebrations and fireworks today," I wrote, "China may yet get the Olympics it really deserves."

If the tragicomic path of the Olympic torch is any indication, it looks like that is precisely what is happening.

I think we all know how duplicitous and callous Beijing has been during this whole process. Like McGurn I objected when China was awarded the Olympics; I think London got jammed up in the deal. Of course, London eventually did get its Olympics in 2012, but that announcement was greeted with the July 7, 2005 London bombings and the following death of innocent Brazilian national Jean Charles de Menezes at the hands of overzealous Scotland Yard agents. A joyous occasion turned to an event of national mourning and reflecting on its terrorism policy.

<-IOC President Jacques Rogge, the man responsible for bringing us Beijing 2008

Although I must say that I disagree with McGurn about the bad publicity. I think it would have been there even if China hadn't snookered the IOC. If he remembers back to that time when they were awarded the games, much of the dissent was based on China's human rights record. I think that there would have been grassroots movements against Beijing, Olympics or not. Would it be on the front page? Probably not, but it would have been in the paper somewhere.

And to be fair, China's arrogance on this issue is not wholely new or unique. The Chinese have been doing their own thing for the thousands of years and haven't cared what outsiders think. At the same time our own government, and McGurn was a member of the top echelon, has acted arrogantly about its invasion of Iraq, its "mandate" in the 2004 election, its attempted sale of management contracts for US ports to foreign companies, and virtually every other misstep since 2001. If we look back to NATO's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Beograd in 1999, we find that it was an error based on faulty maps supplied by the CIA. If our intelligence couldn't get its maps right, how could we possibly have known where weapons of mass destruction were? Yeah, China's bad and deserves our criticism, but as we sit around and harp on it, let's not forget to remove the log from our own eye as well.

Apparently the Chinese are so worried about demostrations during the Olympic Torch's ascent of Mt. Everest that they have paralyzed the whole Himalaya region and kept the date of the climb a secret.

1 comment:

Tom B. said...

good article, Brandon.