The Olympic Games are again to be used for political aims.
The recent unrest in Tibet, but also in the north-western region of Xinjiang, where Uighur Muslims have been protesting Chinese rule, are giving some serious headaches to the Chinese authorities. Of course, it is only logical for those ethnic groups and their backers to be using the Olympic Games as an opportunity to press for their grievances and attract international attention to their respective causes. I cannot believe that the Chinese Government did not see it coming.
It is sad, however, to see Western leaders again giving lessons to the Chinese in the name of democracy and using these Olympics to express their annoyance at the Chinese authorities for their handling of human rights issues when they have themselves numerous social problems in their own countries. Some have already decided not to attend the opening ceremony while some even threatened a full boycott of the Games. When China was awarded the Games, the West already knew of the Chinese Government’s tendency towards authoritarian style and it knew very well that the situation in Tibet, among many other issues, was not going to change. If that was indeed to be considered a serious problem, we should have then thought twice before granting them the Games.
Some people seem to forget that the Olympic Games are a sporting event, most possibly the biggest event attended by 11,000 athletes from all over the world, who see the Games as their lifetime dream to compete at the highest level. It seems that it would again be a shame to deprive them of this opportunity and for many the honour of being part of the Olympic ideals. I sympathise though with the fact that they will have to compete in fairly polluted air.
The world should know better than using the Games to express its displeasure and I don’t believe that it would be wise to corner the Chinese in this manner. Such a loss of face would certainly not be very productive and, dare I say it, actually counter-productive. As a person having lived more than 25 years in that part of the world and a frequent visitor to that country, I have seen tremendous progress in all areas not just in the economic sphere.
China has just emerged from a very difficult period of its history and we should instead show some appreciation for just how far China has progressed socially and economically. Developing a country of 1.3 billion people is an immense challenge unparalleled in human history. Many long time visitors would probably agree with me. Putting China on the spot in such a manner would only cause it to feel again the subject of victimisation which has often been part of their history at the hands of foreign powers.
Of course, one regularly hears of social upheavals in various parts of the country and the recent condemnation in Beijing of the human rights advocate Hu Jia to three years and half imprisonment shows that the situation is still far from perfect and further improvement is necessary in many areas of Chinese society. The leaders of China will need to learn to avoid the usual repressive reflexes of their one-party State caused also by their constant fear of political and social instability. That unfortunately will take more time and there is every chance that they will do it at their own pace. After all, democracy in the West has also taken several centuries to build and it is not that long ago that people were being imprisoned and even killed for being against the authorities.
The West is now closely intertwined with China economically. Half of China’s exports come from factories set up by foreign companies. All big brands, including many sporting equipment representatives, manufacture most of their goods, if not all, in China. For many multinational companies, China is the last El Dorado. We sell planes, cars, all kinds of plants including nuclear power ones, mobile phones, elevators, house goods, services, etc…Luxury brands have now their largest flagship stores there with already close to 20% of their annual sales coming from Chinese customers.
China is a proud country and a good percentage of its population is proud of its progress. Many have never had it so good and many are seeing Deng XiaoPing’s other famous line “let some people get rich first” becoming a reality. With a GDP growth averaging a little over 10% annually, 300 million have now reached a middle class status. With time and with their Confucian principles which have thankfully not disappeared from their culture, they will uplift the rest of the population.
More importantly, 30+ million Chinese travel overseas each year and are able to see the progress we have made in our own societies. This will without doubt have a positive impact on their society as well as making them gradually more conscious of their serious health and environmental problems.
With the Olympic Games, China, just like Japan in 1964, wants to show the world that they are a now one of its fully-fledged members. The Chinese public at large is proud to have been granted the right to hold them. Let’s not deprive them of that experience by jeopardising its success and by resorting to a boycott. There are other more productive ways to send important messages to their leaders.