Beijing Olympics 2008: Of Smog, Crackdowns and a few Games

The Olympics are coming to China on Friday and amidst terrorist attacks and environmental embarrassment, the Chinese and their enablers are assuring us that all is well. About those terrorists?

“Kashgar is totally unified against the terrorists,” the Communist party chief in the city declared yesterday, pointing to an episode when a local village near the city snitched to the police in January about 17 terrorists who were on the run.
The reality, however, is that the local Muslim Uighurs, a Turkic race who make up almost 80 per cent of the city’s population, were too terrified of police reprisals to even whisper about Monday’s bomb attack.
In the same breath as insisting that the Uighurs and Han Chinese live in “harmonious coexistence”, the local party chief chillingly remarked that the Chinese are determined to have “complete master control of the environment”.

That’s the spirit! And remember those cyclers who were photographed wearing the masks? Yeah, they apologized:

The masks, issued to the athletes by the Olympic committee through USA Cycling, were given to about 200 of the 596 athletes in the United States delegation, U.S.O.C. officials said. The swimming team was among those teams that brought the masks to Beijing, said one of the doctors working with that team.
But the cyclists’ grave mistake, U.S.O.C. officials say, was to wear their masks in the airport. Photographers and cameramen captured the athletes on film as the cyclists walked through Beijing’s new terminal. In minutes, those images were on television and the Internet.
“It wasn’t the best judgment at the time, and the athletes understand that now,” U.S.O.C. chief executive Jim Scherr said. “We believe that this will be, hopefully, the last incident of this kind. We’re making sure the athletes understand how their actions are perceived by the host country.”
The U.S.O.C. sent the cyclists’ apology to Wang Wei, executive vice president of the organizing committee.
Another official from the committee, Sun Weijia, director of media operations for the Beijing Olympics, would not directly answer whether officials were insulted by the cyclists’ decision.
“We have all along said that it is not necessary for the athletes to wear masks because the air quality in Beijing has improved,” Sun said. “We have to explain that looks can be deceiving, and that it looks like fog, but actually the air quality is good.

Wouldn’t want to offend anyone, right USOC? Hey, but China is trying to clean up its act (at least environmentally)…for now. On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal thinks that the Olympics can be a Democracy Accelerator:

Even among the young and educated, the “democracy and rights” story of the Olympics is challenging th[e] “China’s renaissance” story. Grace Wang, the brave Duke University student who faced down the hypernationalists on the Tibet question, could not have arisen apart from the dynamics of the Olympic year because it was the Olympics that set the protest-counterprotest (and then counter-counterprotest) into motion. On the People’s Daily’s popular Strong Country Forum chat room, the democracy question has come up frequently in recent months. In March a discussion erupted on whether authoritarian regimes that hold the Olympics tend to collapse shortly thereafter, examples cited being Berlin in 1936 and Moscow in 1980. In early July one post said that holding the Olympics is not in the interests of China and that in a democratic country the bid would have been rejected by the people.
And the cumulative results? By denying the Communist Party its moment of glory, the dissonance created by the Olympic year will accelerate the ongoing values transformation in China needed to erode the regime’s popular support. At the same time, the mobilization of social actors and the creation of new venues of protest and expression will leave behind new levers for positive change. Beijing vice mayor Liu Jingmin’s pledge in 2001 that the games will be “an opportunity to foster democracy, improve human rights, and integrate China with the rest of the world” will prove true.

We’ll see (and hope). One suggestion: pick up Peter Navarro’s The Coming China Wars (reviewed here last month). It’s an easy and quick read and will clarify a few things about the relationship between the Chinese economy, its environmental policies and the political ramifications of the short-cuts its been taking.

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15 years ago

This country should never have been awarded the Games. The Chinese government is spitting in the face of the free world in the same manner the German authorities did in 1936. Just substitute “Tibet” or “Falun Gong” for “Juden.”
Restrictions on the Internet at the international press center – another slap.
The last-second denial of a visa for U.S. gold medal speed skater Joey Cheek, co-founder of Team Darfur, which includes 70 American athletes and more than 300 worldwide – another slap.
May the oppressed citizens of China rise up against this government that the West has appeased enough in the runup to these Games to make Neville Chamberlain look like a standup guy.

15 years ago

I can’t believe I’m in agreement with something said by Rhody, pretty much in it’s entirely. The games should never have been awarded to China. However, since they were, that only reflects poorly on International Olympic Committee responsible for making the decision, not on the Olympians here or in most other countries. Since those making the decisions have a long and colorful history of being influenced by external forces (i.e., large cash bribes), perhaps it’s not very surprising after all that China is hosting the games. While I don’t think it would have been efficacious for team USA to have boycotted the games (like we did in 1980), since it would actually make it more likely for the Chinese government to use the Olympics to its own political ends — at the same time, we should not do anything at all here to further to legitimize the Chinese government. Rhody mentioned their support of the Islamist govermment of the Sudan, as well as their continued repression in Tibet, as well as of the Falun Gong adherents … BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Don’t forget the other Buddhists, Muslims, evangelical Christians and Catholics, and pretty much every other religious minority in China. I suppose one could say that they are “equal opportunity” oppressors. Of course, besides Sudan, they also support the authoritarian regimes in Iran, as well as North Korea, and many others around the world. Make so doubt about it, China is an authoritarian police state. The analogy of the 1936 Berlin games with the 2008 Beijing games is spot on. They are hoping to prove their crypto-fascist system in the best light, and I think the best we can do is to expose them for what they are to the whole world, and hopefully, beat them at a lot of… Read more »

15 years ago

The Olympic Committee chosing Beijing did more to expose the effects of pollution and the autrocities of China’s government than any evvironmentalist group or the Dalia lama could have ever managed.
Sometimes I wonder if it was intentional…

15 years ago

While I’d like to think JP is right, I agree wholeheartedly with Rhody. It may also be, however, that the Olympics will not confer quite the legitimization or veneer of respectability that Beijing was looking for.
Isn’t it somewhat upside down, by the way, that the party to apologize is the person wearing the mask to shield his lungs and not the host government whose non-existent environmental policies caused that thick pollution?

15 years ago

If you believe American cyclist Friedman’s statement that this wasn’t intentional, then I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like you to look at. This was a deliberate, ingratious attempt to embarrass the host Chinese. I don’t even think it was political, more like college hijinks from a bunch of pampered, entitled American jocks. These kids are the 2008 version of the ugly American. Anything for attention, anything for celebrity.

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