THE PLANK MAY 1, 2008
At the start of the Tibet uprising, I mused that the Olympics--far from being a Chinese propaganda coup, as envisioned by Beijing--might actually wreck China's image abroad.
Now, John Pomfret at PostGlobal thinks this is indeed happening (it's worth reading the piece):
Move over ugly American, make room for the ugly Chinese.
For the past decade, China's "soft power" has helped fuel Beijing's rise by attempting to assuage fears of an expansionist China. ... But now across the globe China is dropping in the polls.
It's true. Recent months have seen China's global standing plummet like Bill Clinton in South Carolina. What's more, this has been good for the United States.
I intitially decried China's crackdown in Tibet for moral reasons, but also because it looked like a full-throated assault from the press would reduce China's standing at a crucial time, rehabilitating America in relative terms after a decade of global PR disasters. (Not that China is our enemy, but it's certainly nice to have some leverage over a rising great power.)
After all, China has been getting a free ride for the past decade--playing the anti-America that doesn't intervene in other countries' affairs. This made them popular, in part, because we spent that decade more or less giving interventionism a bad name.
Now, however, they're playing defense--the atmospherics of the Tibet-Olympics affair (with Mugabe and Darfur on the side) have turned their sovereigntism from a selling point into a public-relations liability.
On top of that, their hack apparatchik instincts have begun to show under pressure. What was once smooth diplomatic composure during the good times has given way to reflexive, KCNA-style harangues (China's Foreign Ministry recently called Nancy Pelosi "disgusting"!).
And--it's terrible to say, but true--folks protesting U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan have had to make space in their calendars to defend the Dalai Lama. Whether or not our policies are correct, it's nice to see someone else condemned for a change.
Now that the torch is safely in Beijing, of course, China might regain some of its composure. But it is clear that China has fumbled badly in Round 1--and the political outcome of these Games will reverberate well into the coming decade.