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