domingo, 13 de abril de 2008

China hasn't changed, we have

Randy Burton
The StarPhoenix
Saturday, April 12, 2008

The bar for measuring success at the world's greatest sporting event seems to fall a little lower every day.
Rather than faster, higher, stronger, the Olympic ideal is now defined as nobody getting hurt during the torch run. Following the confused and shortened San Francisco leg of the relay this week, International Olympic Committee executive board member Gerhard Heiberg of Norway said "I'm very, very happy because there were no injuries. We were afraid of that. That didn't happen, so this was a very good result."
Anything short of complete disaster is now hailed as a victory. IOC president Jacques Rogge also declared that the San Francisco relay had avoided much of the turmoil that undermined the success of the operation in Europe.
What he didn't say was that most of the event was abandoned and what was left wound up on an unplanned route where nobody could see the torch. The big closing to the event was eventually cancelled and the torch stuffed into a plane so it could quietly decamp for South America.
And this is just the beginning. While protesters dog the torch relay at every stop, various world leaders are declaring that they won't attend the Games' opening ceremonies in Beijing. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he will not go, joining German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who have both opted to stay away.
All of this is in reaction to China's March 14 crackdown in Tibet when Chinese tanks rolled into Lhasa to crush protests against Chinese occupation, which resulted in as many as 150 people being killed. It's hard to tell exactly because China won't let reporters into Tibet.
What is unfolding now is the price to be paid for the policy of "engagement." This is the oft-expressed hope that if the rest of the world pretends China is like a western democracy, then it will eventually begin to behave that way and grant its citizens more freedoms.
China itself made the same argument as part of its case for winning the Games back in 2001. Human rights concerns were raised as a potential issue but Beijing's supporters successfully argued that winning the Olympics would exert a positive influence on China. At the time, the mayor of Beijing said the Olympics would not only support China's economic progress "but benefit the further development of our human rights."
The Chinese ambassador to Canada made the same claims in Montreal that summer, saying the Games amount to a "recognition of the progress China has made in the field of human rights."
How shooting people in the streets of Lhasa amounts to progress is something best left for the Chinese ambassador to explain. But if the rest of the world is beginning to feel like it was suckered in 2001, there's good reason for it.
Engagement implies compromise. It suggests a country is willing to take account of its partners' views and make at least some effort to accommodate them. China has done anything but.
The spectacle of the Chinese crackdown in Tibet serves as a reminder that the IOC had a choice back in 2001. It could have chosen any one of a half dozen other cities, including Toronto.
That it settled on Beijing shows just how successful the Chinese have been in convincing the world that they have changed. In light of recent events, it's pretty obvious China has learned nothing about human rights. It now responds to calls from the IOC to be more lenient as "irrelevant political factors."
And why not? Far from making China act more like western democracies, the policy of engagement has merely made democracies more likely to ignore China's indiscretions.
The truth is that China is already fully engaged in the world of commerce. It has become a global powerhouse, snapping up companies around the world, yet making no accommodation to the international community on human rights issues.
Instead it seems intent on cracking down even harder than it has to date. Before it won the Games, the Chinese government was promising to allow protesters, including Tibetans, the right to conduct public protests. Today, it's going the other way. Far from allowing freedom of expression for Tibetans, the Chinese will now not even allow tourists into Tibet.
Even the athletes will face restrictions at this year's Games. While IOC president Rogge says they will be able to express their political opinions, they won't be able to do it at Olympic venues.
It doesn't help that some western countries are making it even easier for China to get away with this. For example, Australia is demanding its athletes sign a document declaring they will refrain from making any political statements while attending the Olympics. Britain is reportedly also considering such a rule.
In other words, keep your head down, play your sport and shut up. This kind of thing can hardly be regarded as engaging China. It is much more like capitulating to China.

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