Welcome to China’s coming out party
While China is in no danger of regime change, the run-up to the Beijing Games has already reminded everyone that the country’s prosperity hasn’t been without a price.Updated: Aug 07, 2008 20:57 IST
In the West, the hosting of an Olympic Games is largely about boosting a municipal economy. In Asia, holding such an event is about the arrival of an entire economy, a coming out party for a people and their government. The Chinese government is clearly of the view that the Beijing Olympics is in the footsteps of the 1964 Tokyo games or the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The present Games, to be followed soon after by the Beijing Special Olympics, will be about showcasing the accomplishments of the ultimate tiger economy.
But the messages the outside world picks up are not always the ones the host country wishes to broadcast. Japan successfully highlighted its post-war economic revival and how it had left its militaristic past behind. South Korea’s military dictatorship bid for the Olympics to legitimise itself. Instead, hosting the game actually helped accelerate the country’s transition to democracy. While China is in no danger of regime change, the run-up to the Beijing Games has already reminded everyone that the country’s prosperity hasn’t been without a price. The most obvious cost has been political freedom. The Buddhist riots in Tibet and the terrorist plots from Xinjiang front-paged minority repression in China. The squabbling over internet access for foreign media has been a lesson in China’s limits on free expression. Finally, China’s desperate measures to avoid images of athletes running with face masks has pointed up the country’s huge environmental burden. Many enemies of the Chinese State, notably the Falun Dafa, are yet to show their hand.
Ultimately, the Olympics are about sports. Talk of the Games helping to politically ‘unshackle’ communist China are overblown. The Games will probably go like clockwork. As will China’s formidable army of athletes. The world will be reminded that here is a superpower in the making. But in their very perfection, the Games will remind us the gaps that still exist in the Chinese nation.