THE PLANK MARCH 14, 2008
Beijing has been hanging its international reputation on the success of the Olympics for years now. But maybe it shouldn't have been so eager to host the games in the first place. By emphasizing that the 2008 Olympics will symbolize China's coming-out as a humane and responsible great power, Beijing has invited challenges to the legitimacy of its actions in Darfur, Burma, and now--in the wake of this week's crackdown on protesting monks--Tibet as well.
The problem, of course, is that China's government is fundamentally incapable of acquitting itself well against these challenges without radically restructuring its priorities, or undergoing fundamental political change. For example, unless China abandons its colonial project in Tibet (and its reliance on the use of force to keep order), no responsible Chinese leader can allow a Tibetan uprising to go unchecked. Similarly, unless China wants to readjust its attitude towards free speech, Beijing has to crack down on human rights to prevent domestic protests from marring the Olympics. And unless China wants to readjust its policy of nonintervention in other states' internal affairs--as well as its strategy of currying favor with unsavory African regimes--it must continue to coddle Sudan.
But what if Beijing had never implied it would clean up its act in order to host the Olympics? There would probably be no Tibetan uprising right now. There would be little international pressure for press freedom and civil liberties. And there would be less pressure to clean up the situation in Darfur. At what point will China regret having campaigned so hard for the 2008 Games?