Saturday, February 16, 2008


'(Beijing) Most political games since Berlin in 1936'

The title of my post is lifted from Simon Jenkins' article today. Jenkins has long been a critic of the games as a waste of money and a political stunt. But now he argues it will provide a fundamentally illiberal regime with an unjustified massive showcase in which the heads of state from the west-Bush, Brown- will obsequiously bend their knee to the gerontocracy ruling the most populous nation on earth.

China has had a reasonably good press in the west considering it's not all that long since Tinneman Square. It's explosion of manufacturing energy has saved the world from degrees of inflation and recession for which we are mostly grateful. Moreover, its tentative moves to join international organizations-and host the Olympics for example- and extend hands of friendship suggest China really wants to be perceived as a responsible, leading world power. Within this plan the Games clearly occupy a crucial role. But China's leaders will have to learn the hard way that the downside price of such publicity is the merciless scrutiny under which their country will be exposed by the 20,000 visiting journalists.

The Sudan-Darfur row will be the lest of it: human rights within the domestic politics of the state plus treatment of Tibet and related issues, will flood onto the agenda and Hu Jintao will have his work cut out fending off a barrage of criticism. Maybe, he just might start to listen and realise that he ought to address these questions and allow his subjects a little political freedom. Or he might choose the road preferred by his allies in the Burmese military junta and ignore every protest from within a bunker of his own making. The latter would be a self defeating strategy if worldwide acceptance is what the leaders of China are genuinely committed in achieving.

The Chinese leaders do indeed seem to want "worldwide acceptance" but I am pretty sure that one thing they do not want is for China to suffer the same fate as the former-USSR and who can blame them?
Interesting stuff. I'm struck that the biggest criticism has shifted from human rights to colonial dabbling - in Africa and her own hinterland mostly - and that the USA and Russia were at this dabbling in a huge way when they hosted Olympics but barring some half-cocked boycotts this went rather unremarked.

London 1908 and 1948 were at some kind of height and beginning of the end of some huge - and possibly not always benign British dabbling.

The USA thinks water boarding is cool. They think Gitmo is cool. They think client states and puppetry are cool.

China has taken several great leaps forward over the last 10-20 years and this includes in the liberty of citizens. You will probably remember very well Bill the tiny Mao-suited groups that turned up in UK Universities in the late seventies and onwards.

Very few countries are truly clean and that a huge country like China has some issues at this stage of transition from developing to developed, absolutely oppressed to somethingly free, subsistence to economic tiger is no surprise.

I'm all for leveraging the maximum from the decision made some years ago to award the games to China. And I'm on the look out for any humbug from former colonial powers and the big daddy of them all, USA.
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