A big question to ask is, What will President Bush do while in China? Will he meet with dissidents, as President Reagan did in the Soviet Union? Will he give encouragement to persecuted churches? Will he extract concessions from the regime, in exchange for his attendance at the opening ceremony, so prized?
In other words, what good will Bush wring out of these Games, since China has seen fit to forgo even a Nazi-style Olympic Pause, with little protest from the world? (This is aside from Tibet and Darfur, which are largely side issues.)
In that 2001 column I’ve been quoting, Abe Rosenthal spoke of “rescuing any good at all from the greedy nastiness of the vote for the Beijing Olympics.” That is perfectly phrased.
‐I asked what good President Bush will wring from the Games. I should also say — how about the rest of us? What good will we wring from them? And I think especially of journalists. They are descending there. Will they remember their fellow journalists, in prison? Their Chinese counterparts, who are not nearly as free as they, to say the least? The group Human Rights in China, among others, would be happy to supply a list of imprisoned journalists.
Journos are always bragging about how independent and uncontainable they are. Will they prove so in China? Or will they be lambs? Unlike Chinese journalists, they have very little to lose — they would just get kicked out, honorably. If a Chinese journalist steps out of line . . .
‐Many of us think that granting the Games to Beijing in the first place was the “original sin” — that is the phrase we have repeatedly used. But since the Games are going to be held there anyway — how to turn them to the advantage of human rights, to the amelioration of the Chinese situation? I canvassed dissidents and their well-wishers in 2000, when I wrote about Beijing’s two bids: for the 2000 Games and for the ’08. I have canvassed them again. They generally speak of a “window of opportunity”: Either we miss it or we seize it, to the benefit of all.
I will quote to you a great man — Jianli Yang. (He was released last year after five years in PRC prisons, and is now working again in the U.S.) “If we do nothing, this will definitely strengthen the hands of the Communists. They will be emboldened, knowing that they can get away with whatever they want.” If, on the other hand, America and others press the Communists for reform, the Games may prove a help, even a boon. On the matter of boycotts, Yang called for “conditional participation” — that is his phrase. Participation, he thought, should have been conditioned on some minimal standards of human rights.
It’s a little late for that now. (I should note that I did my canvassing in late April, in preparation for the magazine piece from which the current web series has sprung.)
I will quote to you another great man — Wei Jingsheng. In 1993, he was a pawn in China’s Olympic game. He was released nine days before the IOC voted (on the 2000 Olympics), after 14 and a half years in prison. I asked him some questions by e-mail; he answered via the same means:
Question: Will the Olympic Games be of great benefit to the Chinese government? Will they strengthen the Communist party?
Answer: The Chinese government wanted to hold the Olympic Games as the proof that the whole world is standing with the Chinese Communist Party, as a way to suppress the opposition minds of the people, and to maintain an autocracy that is ready to fall. So you can see that they have treated the Olympic Games as the most important thing.
Question: Can any good, for Chinese democracy, come out of these Games?
Answer: If the CCP has a successful Olympics, then it proves that it is in control, both inside China and internationally. It means that the CCP’s life is extended for 20 more years — which means that Chinese democratization is delayed for 20 more years.
Question: What should be the stance of the West, basically? Or, put another way, what should be the stance of free countries?
Answer: The free countries should stand with the Tibetans and the democratic side of the Chinese by applying maximum pressure to the Chinese government and pushing China to the road of peaceful transformation. This would be the best choice for both China and the West — also for the business community that has invested in China.
Question: Anything else? Anything in particular we should know?
Answer: What you and the American politicians should know is that the current America is in its weakest period — sort of like lobsters shedding, most vulnerable to attack. If you let the CCP succeed in this crisis period of the Olympic Games, it will come to carry out its ambition to strive for supremacy in Asia. By then, America and Japan would be its target. Taiwan and South Korea will be its first feed.
I asked the same four questions of one of the best journalists in all of Asia, Frank Ching. He said the questions were not easy. But he answered as follows:
1. The Olympic Games, as you know, were seen as China’s “coming out” party after an eclipse of over 100 years. If successful, they will enhance the country’s image. The Chinese population is overwhelmingly behind this and see themselves as the beneficiaries, not just the Communist party. In this case, the interests of the Communist party are not in opposition to the interests of the Chinese people.
2. Many people, including the IOC, took the position that the Olympics will help to open up China even more than before. Certainly, the Seoul Olympics ushered in democracy to South Korea. It seems to me that any event that opens up China more, that locks in its membership in the international community, is good. Remember Premier Zhu Rongji said China needed to join the WTO because there was internal resistance to reforms, and China needed WTO membership to overcome internal opposition. Similarly, Chinese membership in other international bodies forces Beijing to abide by international norms. The tens of thousands of journalists who will descend on the country will subject China to scrutiny as never before, and just not where sports is concerned.
3. The posture of the West, I think, should be one that is supportive of the Beijing Olympics. On this issue, I think that Bush is right. There is no sense in boycotting the Games, or boycotting the opening ceremony. It serves no useful purpose.
4. I think the wave of highly publicized condemnation of China since late March has done the party and the regime a service, at least for now. The Chinese public has become highly nationalistic and, as you know, there have been demonstrations against CNN and Carrefour. What is much more significant is that, even outside China, such as in L.A., San Francisco, Vancouver, Sweden, etc., overseas Chinese communities are now organizing protests, such as the one outside CNN. . . . Historically, of course, anti-foreign sentiment has often been transformed into anti-regime sentiment if the Chinese government is seen as being weak and caving in to foreigners. This is something of which Beijing is well aware.
And here is a statement from Ross Munro, that keen China-watcher:
On the one hand: I’m opposed to a boycott. It would feed the paranoid, negative nationalism that runs deep in the Chinese population. Indeed, so deep that the anxious leadership would have no choice except to manipulate and exploit the resulting widespread anger to shore up its position.
On the other hand, the popular and sometimes widespread anger that the Olympics have sparked in the Western world suggests we may have reached some tipping point regarding attitudes toward China. The country’s environmental degradation, its uniquely primitive form of mercantilist capitalism that engages in poison- and beggar-thy-neighbor trade practices, its violent repression of peasants on behalf of corrupt officials — all are finally seeping into popular Western consciousness. Perhaps the harsh police crackdown on the Tibetans was the last straw.
This isn’t going to end this spring. Some Olympic athletes and attendees are going to find a way in Beijing to demonstrate how appalled they are by the direction China is taking.
Finally let’s remember that several hubristic regimes — Russia, South Korea, Mexico — hosted the Olympics only to crumble in the years that followed. With that many examples, you can argue that the Olympics hasten the fall of dictatorial regimes.
From his mouth to You-Know-Who’s ear.
‐Protest can be a very lonely thing. Remember the protest against that PRC float in the Rose Parade? Of those protesters, that PRC fundraising lady said, “This is a very small, small group.” Maybe so — but occasionally such groups get things done.
In Manhattan, I sometimes walk along both rivers: the Hudson on the west side, the East on the other. On the Hudson River is the Chinese consulate — a mighty, gleaming structure — and on the East River is the U.N. There are often protests outside these buildings: a dozen Tibetans, a dozen Falun Gong. They display terrible pictures on banners: pictures of their tortured (literally tortured) brethren. They chant slogans. They shake their fists. They beg the world to care. I often think that they are wasting their time — that people will never care, especially if money is to be made out of the PRC. Also, the appeasing instinct is always strong (and sometimes even correct).
But I think of the image of the oak and the calf — this is the image that Solzhenitsyn used, and, in fact, “The Oak and the Calf” is the title of his literary memoir, a masterpiece. The image comes from Russian folklore: A calf butts its head against an oak, trying to knock it down. This is the ultimate in futility: a calf trying to fell an oak. But Solzhenitsyn’s efforts were not so futile; and maybe others’ will prove potent as well.
To grant the Olympic Games to the People’s Republic of China — to any police state — was a terrible mistake. It makes a mockery of what used to be called “Olympism,” a movement for high ideals, as well as for sport. The ruling Communists think that the ’08 Games will benefit them, greatly. Let us hope that they are wrong: that the Games backfire on them terribly, proving a turning point toward the Chinese democracy for which more than a few have suffered and died.