Re: Will The Olympics Change China?
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- Date: Sat, 31 May 2008 06:56:13 -0700 (PDT)
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Playing for Keeps: A Symposium
By THE AMERICAN
From the May/June 2008 Issuehttp://www.american.com/archive/2008/may-june-magazine-contents/playi...
Will the Beijing Olympics ultimately help or hurt the cause of freedom
in China? THE AMERICAN asked eight experts.
From August 8 to August 24, China's capital city will host the 29th
Summer Olympics. It promises to be as much a political event as an
athletic spectacle. With that in mind, THE AMERICAN asked eight China
experts to answer this question: Will the Beijing Olympics ultimately
help or hurt the cause of freedom in China? Here are their responses.
During the 2008 Summer Olympics, 600,000 armband-wearing citizen
volunteers will join 90,000 police, military, and paramilitary forces
in Beijing, flush with hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on
security technology to help enforce the Chinese Communist Party's
(CCP) writ. No one should be under any illusion that the Olympics will
pry China open. On the contrary, the party's repressive techniques
will grow stronger thanks to Western technology and training. The
requirements for security technology in Beijing are large, and Western
companies are rushing in to meet them. Some American companies are
installing surveillance systems, while others are providing networks
of security cameras.
As the former head of criminal intelligence for Hong Kong puts it,
"They are certainly getting the best stuff." The "best stuff" is
similar to the technology that was supposed to liberalize China
throughout the 1990s. It didn't. Instead, Internet and
telecommunications technology was put to work by the Communist regime
against its citizens. The news that grabs headlines--for example, when
Western companies provide Chinese authorities with the IP addresses of
known dissidents--tells just part of the story of a Chinese security
apparatus that has grown stronger through international commerce. Even
before the Olympics, tens of thousands of Internet police monitored
antiparty activities each day. During and after the Olympics, this
number will certainly grow.
The Olympics will not pry China open. The Communist Party's repressive
techniques will grow stronger thanks to Western technology and
training.After the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, many foreign experts
predicted that the days of one-party rule were numbered. But that was
20 years ago, and the CCP is still very much in power. True, it
survives thanks to impressive economic growth. But no less important
is the CCP's acquisition of sophisticated and modern technology to
squelch dissent. The party simply has more resources to employ against
those trying to use new technologies to push for a more open China.
In other words, by deepening trade with China, in particular
technology trade, the West threw the CCP a lifeline. Although the
"Tiananmen Sanctions" were meant to prohibit the sale of goods and
services that would improve the repressive means of the state, there
is simply no way for companies to ensure that technologies sold for
commercial purposes are not diverted to police or security use. The
Olympics have further opened the spigots.
All countries, including China, have legitimate concerns about
terrorist threats during the Olympics. The problem is that the CCP's
definition of "terrorist" includes Tibetans and Uighurs agitating for
greater religious and cultural freedom. Indeed, as Liu Shaowu, a
senior Chinese official in charge of Olympic security, has stated, the
CCP has set its sights on anyone taking part in any protest. Even
democratic countries err on the side of more centralized power when
faced with potential threats. But China is not a democratic country:
there are no checks on power, and there is no recourse for a citizen
whose rights are abused. The ruling elite uses legitimate security
concerns as excuses to become even more dictatorial.
With foreign journalists pouring into China during the Olympics, there
will surely be protests against the CCP. But if the 1990s are any
lesson, the Chinese Communists will emerge stronger, prouder, and more
sophisticated in their repressive techniques, and they will be armed
with the finest Western technologies to crush dissent well past the
Dan Blumenthal is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise
The Olympics are likely to have a modestly positive impact on freedom,
civil and political rights, and kindred values in China. This
unexciting prospect is more plausible than predictions that Beijing
2008 will bring a reprise of the 1988 Seoul Games (sometimes credited
with expediting South Korea's democratization) or the 1980 Moscow
Games (sometimes interpreted as hastening Gorbachev's reforms, and
thus the demise of Soviet Communism). Marginal change is also more
likely than the bleak vision of a Beijing Olympiad reminiscent of the
1936 Berlin Games, which handed an odious host regime a propaganda
Having led China through meteoric economic growth and rapid ascension
as a regional and aspiring great power, the reform-era Chinese regime
is far more resilient than its counterparts in South Korea and the
Soviet Union were during the 1980s. Also, China remains below the
level of affluence and related social changes that presaged
democratization in South Korea and other East Asian countries. On the
other hand, and despite heavy investment in Games-related security and
the suppression of Games-linked dissent, China has come a long way
from its Maoist past. It has engaged the outside world's norms and
institutions, introducing freedoms and openness that would have been
unimaginable under Mao.
To be sure, the run-up to the Olympics has included much that is bad
for freedom and human rights. The regime has used poorly paid and
mistreated migrant workers to build Olympics-related projects; it has
ousted urban residents to make room for that construction; it has
quashed many protesters (including those calling for Tibetan autonomy,
religious freedom, freedom of the press, property rights, and labor
rights); and it has scolded, without apparent irony, its critics for
"politicizing" the Games.
If the Games present China as a powerful and capable state, this will
increase expectations that China live up to international human rights
standards.Still, the net effect of the Olympics is likely to be
favorable. If the Games go smoothly, this should boost Chinese rulers'
confidence that the liberalizing influences the Olympics foster do not
threaten their political order. If the Games present China as a
powerful and capable state, this also will increase expectations that
China live up to international human rights standards. If the regime
does not respond, Beijing will find it harder to persuade the world
that China's rise will be "peaceful" and "harmonious."
If the Games show the regime's repressive face--especially if there are
telegenic moments akin to the lone man standing before the tanks in
Tiananmen Square or a military vehicle toppling the "Goddess of
Democracy"--then post-Olympics China will have a more difficult time
achieving the international recognition and rehabilitation the Games
were supposed to provide, as they variously did for South Korea in
1988, Germany in 1972, and Japan in 1964. More broadly, the Olympics
likely will increase China's openness to international ideas and
foreigners' monitoring of its human rights record. While global
attention to China will wane, it is unlikely to recede to pre-Olympics
levels. At least in the long run the Beijing Games promise to be
another small step in China's long march toward greater global
engagement and political transparency.
Jacques deLisle is the Stephen A. Cozen Professor of Law at the
University of Pennsylvania and director of the Asia Program at the
Foreign Policy Research Institute.
JAMES A. DORN
Will the Beijing Olympics ultimately help or hurt the cause of freedom
in China? Once one realizes that any expansion of trade--in goods,
sports, ideas, or capital--widens the range of individual choice, the
answer to this question is obvious. The Olympic Games will link China
more closely to the free world, and the millions of people who view
the Games will see firsthand the progress China has made since it
opened to the outside world 30 years ago.
But the world will also hear the cries of demonstrators who rightly
recognize the repression of human rights in China. Those protests,
however, should not shut down the Games and deny Chinese and other
athletes the opportunity to pursue their dreams of winning Olympic
China has come a long way since Mao Zedong made capitalism a crime and
abolished private property, but the CCP has yet to accept the basic
principle of freedom. Today, Chinese people are allowed to own their
own homes and are free to start their own businesses, to work in the
nonstate sector, and to travel and trade.
The Olympics will allow the Chinese to take pride in their progress
and to show the rest of the world that China is a peaceful rising
power, not an inevitable enemy of the West.But the state continues to
deny people freedom of expression and to maintain its monopoly on
political power. Nonetheless, one should not lose sight of the
positive impact of economic liberalization. As Jianying Zha, author of
China Pop, has noted, "The economic reforms have created new
opportunities, new dreams, and to some extent, a new atmosphere and
new mindsets.... There is a growing sense of increased space for
In March 2004, the National People's Congress (NPC) amended the
official Chinese constitution, which now proclaims, "The lawful
private property of citizens is inviolable." And in 2007, the NPC
passed a landmark property law to better protect ownership rights.
Such legal changes would have been unthinkable during Mao's reign.
In 1978, China's foreign trade sector barely existed and was dominated
by a handful of state trading companies. Today, the foreign trade
sector is open to virtually anyone, and China is the world's
third-largest trading nation. The transition from central planning to
a "socialist market economy" has allowed millions of people to escape
from poverty and has increased the demand for safeguarding newly
The Beijing Olympics will allow the Chinese people to take pride in
the progress they have made and to show the rest of the world that
China is a peaceful rising power, not an inevitable enemy of the West.
"Peaceful development" has been the mantra of China's leaders since
1978. Their primary goal has been economic development. Treating China
like Cuba or North Korea would be counterproductive.
We should recognize the progress China has made and hope for a
peaceful and prosperous China. However, we should not confuse market
socialism with market liberalism. More importantly, we should remind
the Chinese leadership that official proclamations of human rights
must be backed up with institutions that limit the power of government
and allow people freedom under a just rule of law.
Brave protesters are reminding the world of what still needs to be
done in the cause of Chinese freedom. Their voices should not be shut
out in the quest for Olympic gold.
James A. Dorn is a China specialist at the Cato Institute and editor
of The Cato Journal.
DAVID S. G. GOODMAN
There is considerably more freedom in China today than there was at
the height of the Mao era in the early 1970s. Economically,
politically, and socially, the degree of personal freedom has
continued to increase since the early 1980s, even though change has
sometimes been fitful. It is hard to see how the 2008 Olympics can
have anything other than a slight impact on the pattern of developing
The increase in economic freedom has been the most dramatic change in
China during the last three decades: for entrepreneurs, managers, and
peasants. We have seen the emergence of an entrepreneurial class that
has sped up the pace of growth and change. In a very real sense,
economic freedom has made it possible for Beijing to host the
Olympics, both by integrating China into the world economy and by
providing the party-state with the resources to finance the event. If
the unveiling of the new buildings and infrastructure associated with
the Olympics is a reliable guide, the Games will showcase the
achievements of economic liberalization.
It is unlikely that the Games will expedite China's social
liberalization. In fact, the continued evolution of domestic freedoms
may be temporarily halted.Many foreign observers have expected China's
integration into the world economy and its economic development to
lead almost automatically to increased political freedom. There have
indeed been some gains. Independent political space has expanded,
albeit slowly, which has made room for a range of new institutions,
including chambers of commerce, nongovernmental organizations, and
even loosely defined "activist" groups. All the same, more dramatic
political change is unlikely absent a major reform movement within the
CCP, a state crisis, and widespread unrest. And in any case, the
Olympic Games are not likely to affect this trajectory.
Socially, Chinese people have won many new freedoms. For example, it
has become much easier to move around China in search of work or
leisure. Employment opportunities are more market-driven than ever
before. The standard of living has improved dramatically for most
people, providing them with greater opportunities for personal
expression. Cultural activities and artistic expression have started
to flourish, with the aid of greater private funding.
At the same time, there is little doubt that social customs and
China's entrenched inequalities of class, sex, and region have been
slower to change. For that matter, it is unlikely that the Summer
Games will expedite China's social liberalization. On the contrary,
there is the strong possibility that, due to the increased public
expression of Chinese nationalism associated with the Olympics, the
continued evolution of domestic freedoms may be temporarily halted.
David S. G. Goodman is a professor of contemporary China studies at
the University of Technology, Sydney.
DAVID C. KANG
Will the Beijing Olympics ultimately help the cause of freedom in
The short answer is no.
The longer answer is still no, but somewhat more encouraging. China is
in the midst of a long-term economic, social, and political
transformation. At the start of China's opening 30 years ago, few
could have foreseen its rapid economic growth, its increasingly
globalized citizenry, its membership in international and regional
institutions, and its often responsible behavior as a great power. Yet
as far as China has come, there remain many areas in which Chinese
rights do not meet international standards.
However, nobody has any idea whether or when China will become
democratic, whether or when China's economic and intellectual rights
will match its GDP growth, or whether the CCP can "muddle through" for
the next generation. The Chinese people themselves will decide this
over time, and the choices made today will affect how and when the
Hosting such a global event throws a spotlight on China and makes it
clear that China's own interests are furthered by continuing domestic
reforms.So what is the role of external influence on that process? The
two main approaches to swaying another country's internal affairs can
be characterized as "cursing the darkness" and "lighting a candle."
Neither is likely to work by itself, but a combination of approaches
to China is the strategy most likely to succeed.
To be sure, those hoping for a dramatic change in China will be
disappointed, and it is hard to imagine external pressure ("cursing
the darkness") having an immediate effect. Realistically, barring
fundamental change in the ruling Communist Party, political rights in
China will be the slowest to improve. If America pressures China to
reform, it is likely to sour relations between our two governments at
a time when Sino-American cooperation is crucial to solving many
environmental and strategic problems. It may also provoke a
nationalist, anti-American backlash among the Chinese people.
"Lighting a candle"--that is, engaging China and making it clear that
responsible behavior is in Beijing's interests--may bring some
benefits, but progress will be slow. The Beijing Olympics are one
example of this approach: hosting such a global event throws a
spotlight on China and makes it clear that China's own interests are
furthered by continuing domestic reforms. Yet the Olympics will merely
be one more step in China's long transformation, and the process will
be gradual at best.
Ultimately, Chinese freedoms will arise when Chinese themselves, both
inside and outside of the government, decide that the best way to
govern themselves, their economy, and their society is through a model
in which basic freedoms are expressly present. China is well along
that path, and the role of the Olympics will be one small factor in
David C. Kang is a professor of government and an adjunct professor at
the Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College. His latest book is
"China Rising: Peace, Power, and Order in East Asia" (Columbia
On a recent flight from Beijing to Los Angeles, I read the eloquent
writings of Mandarin Yung Wing, a senior bureaucrat during the time of
the Manchu regime in China and the first Chinese national to graduate
from Yale University (class of 1854). His story is instructive in
understanding how the Olympics might advance freedom in China, if at
Yung Wing was responsible for creating a pathway for Chinese students
to study in the United States, for transferring U.S.
machine-technology to China, and for promoting the rights of Chinese
workers in the Western world. He was a successful human bridge between
the West and China at a time of turbulence, including the U.S. Civil
War and China's Taiping Revolution.
His bridging was based on a deep understanding of both societies, and
on finding helpful change agents in both China and the West. This
meant "working within" both systems. That may sound like a euphemism
for acquiescing to unsavory acts, but it is not, as Yung Wing amply
demonstrated through his disavowal of corruption in graft-ridden
Of course, many bridges--both personal and institutional--have been
constructed since then, most recently following the modern phase of
Chinese reforms initiated around 1978, a process interrupted by the
Tiananmen Square incident of 1989 but renewed by Deng Xiaoping's 1992
"southern tour" (in Chinese, nanxun). Seen in this light, the 2008
Olympics offer another opportunity to continue China's bridging to the
The Olympics offer another opportunity to continue China's bridging to
the world.With this progressive bridging have come freedoms of many
sorts. Primary among these are freedoms from basic economic
deprivation and hunger for hundreds of millions of Chinese. It is hard
to overemphasize the importance of these freedoms. There is also much
more information available than before, particularly regarding
economic activity. For example, magazines such as Caijing, a leading
business publication, would not have been feasible even a few years
Of course, there are many freedoms that remain unrealized in China.
There is little freedom to express religious beliefs--witness the
tension between the party-approved Catholic Church and the underground
one--and to debate politics.
During the Beijing Olympics, the government has promised limited press
freedoms in return for restraint exercised by foreign journalists. But
it is hard to let this press freedom genie out of the bottle only
partially. The party must contend with a host of entities pursuing
goals that are sometimes at odds with its own.
What do Yung Wing's efforts tell us about outside attempts to promote
freedom in China? Simple: outsiders desirous of spurring change are
more likely to make progress if they figure out a way to leverage the
system within China. As Yung Wing demonstrated, outside catalysts need
to work with China's domestic reformers. There is no compelling
evidence that force majeure will produce the desired results--something
we should keep in mind before, during, and after the Beijing Olympics.
Tarun Khanna is the Jorge Paulo Lemann professor at Harvard Business
School and author of "Billions of Entrepreneurs: How China and India
are Reshaping Their Futures and Yours" (Harvard Business School
The organizers of the 29th Summer Olympic Games in Beijing picked an
auspicious date, 08/08/08, for the opening ceremony. In Cantonese, the
number eight has the same sound as "making a fortune." But it remains
unclear whether the Beijing Olympics will be auspicious for the future
of freedom in China. If history provides any guidance, it offers
Since the first modern Olympic Summer Games were held in Athens in
1896, the only authoritarian state that became democratic directly as
a result of the Olympics was South Korea, which played host in 1988.
Recent political developments within China do not augur well for an
immediate expansion of political freedom. Although the average Chinese
citizen enjoys more personal freedom today than he has during any
period since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, essential
political rights (such as dissent) and civil liberties (such as
freedom of speech, association, and assembly) remain severely
With the Olympics approaching, the instinct of the Chinese government
is not to relax political control but to strengthen its
"stability-enhancing" capabilities and ensure that the Beijing
Olympics will not be tarnished by unwelcome incidents of political
protest or social unrest. As a result, urban slums, where thousands of
petitioners from the rural provinces have temporary shelters, are
being cleared. The Chinese media and the Internet are subject to more
intense scrutiny. A leading AIDS activist, Hu Jia, has been sentenced
to three years in prison.
It is understandable that the government would seek to provide
security for the athletes and foreign visitors. But the unfortunate
short-term effect of the Beijing Olympics has been to curtail Chinese
freedoms, not to expand them.
The unfortunate short-term effect of the Olympics has been to curtail
Chinese freedoms, not to expand them.This puts the West in a quandary.
Since the Chinese people genuinely want to see Beijing stage the most
successful Olympics in recent memory, it is unrealistic to expect them
to respond positively to international criticisms of China's poor
human rights performance. In all likelihood, such criticisms will
backfire, convincing the average Chinese that the West is unwilling to
give China the international respect it deserves. Indeed, there is a
real risk that the cause of freedom in China might suffer a further
setback due to such a nationalist-populist backlash.
However, the long-term effects of the Beijing Olympics on freedom are
likely to be more positive, although very limited. Massive investments
in Beijing's infrastructure will speed up its urbanization. The
millions of peasants who subsequently migrate to Beijing will not only
have access to a higher standard of living, they will also have
greater opportunities to agitate for political rights. But it would be
too generous to credit the Beijing Olympics even with this possible
upside. Modernization, not the staging of international sports
competitions, has long proven to be a far more potent force for
expanding freedom around the world.
Minxin Pei is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace and author of "China's Trapped Transition"
(Harvard University Press).
The Beijing Games will display China, not change it. The world will
see a booming urban China that has temporarily separated economic
freedom (which is permitted) and political freedom (which is denied),
thus creating a hybrid system of liberalized commercial life
coexisting with authoritarian politics. During the Games, the Chinese
regime will do what it takes to put on a good show.
In the short term, freedom will shrink for those Chinese who are
always on the threshold of repression. These include handicapped
people, migrants from the countryside, AIDS activists, pro-democracy
figures, bloggers who show a tendency to make "anti-China" statements,
and others who mar China's "harmonious society." Over the long term,
however, there may be a slight gain in freedom's prospects, as
sometimes occurs when the Chinese party-state has to rub shoulders
Today, Chinese nationalism is burnished by economic progress, the
space program, archaeological research to demonstrate how old and
clever Chinese civilization is, and Japan bashing. The Olympic Games
will add a little to this mix, if everything goes smoothly.
To be sure, hosting the Games is politically risky, as it means
bringing international elements into China. Something could happen.
But then, something could happen to China's brittle political system
at any time: for example, if disgruntled farmers mobilized; if Tibet
or the Muslim area of Xinjiang grew restive (witness the recent
protests by Tibetans in Lhasa and elsewhere); if Hong Kong tangled
with Beijing; or if a regime collapse in North Korea brought millions
of refugees flocking into northeast China.
Freedom can't advance far under the present party-state. Beijing has
learned how to turn the screws on and off according to circumstance.
But a secular movement away from communism is gaining strength in
China, and the Olympic Games may mildly help it.
The party-state will win some rounds with its organizational and
theatrical skills. Beijing will look clean, bright, and exciting. If
the Asian Games of two decades ago are any indication, the opening and
closing ceremonies mounted by Beijing will be of the highest standard.
If there are massive international protests against the Games, most
Chinese will rally behind their government.Other elements of the show
will strike informed observers as bittersweet. Few Americans will
guess that the tap water in their five-star hotels is unavailable to
the vast majority of Beijing residents. Most of the city's tap water
is not safe to drink. Only in the area housing athletes and some
foreign visitors--and only during the Games--will drinkable water flow
from faucets. Providing safe water for an Olympic elite and dirty
water for the Chinese masses does not exactly boost the credentials of
Politicizing the Games would not have a good outcome. It would not
free any Chinese political prisoners, nor would it make China's
foreign policy in the Third World more pro-democracy.
If there are massive international protests against the Beijing Games,
most Chinese will rally behind their government.
Yes, the Olympics are a tool in the authoritarian state's box of
tricks. But a successful Olympics will be China's glory more than the
government's. The government will sweat, repress, and spend billions.
But the Chinese people will feel proud, and why shouldn't they?
The Olympic Games are ultimately a sporting event. Unfortunately, they
can't be a 100 percent sporting event because authoritarian
governments use the occasion for boasting. We may grimace at this, but
we must stick by our principles. The United States did not need to
trumpet the 1984 Los Angeles Games to fortify its political
legitimacy. If other countries use the Olympic Games as a crutch, so
be it. I think the world will get the message: free governments are
relaxed, but repressive regimes are always fearful.
Ross Terrill's books include "Mao" (Stanford University Press) and
"The New Chinese Empire" (Basic Books). He was recently a scholar at
the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
It is the Chinese government that needs to change, not so much the
ordinary citizens. Under the one-party dictatorship in China, the
function of the press has been limited in its coverage of social
Individual leader with foresights can lead. But governments in general
govern by following the citizens. Governments would have to change if
the people have changed or they can no longer satisfy the needs of the
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