Ann Kent: China’s Thin Veil of Compliance

From The Canberra Times:

Why the official paranoia, why the theatre, why the intense security which made life so difficult? The need for security against international terrorism, while legitimate to a degree, was exaggerated to become the official cover for manifestations of extreme xenophobia. To many conservative Chinese leaders, status is more important than goodwill; form more meaningful than substance; the perfect theatrical performance, the technically perfect Games, more important than the individual spectator’s sense of wellbeing and enjoyment. This is particularly a feature of those bodies involved in the Olympics organisation, the Ministry of State Security, the Bureau of Public Security and the People’s Liberation Army. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, normally the cosmopolitan, enlightened and diplomatic leader or intermediary in international events, was less in evidence.

But it was more than just a conflict between organisational cultures. The Chinese Government is struggling to maintain its rule and at the same time guarantee social cohesion without political rights. This is particularly difficult now when leaders perceive a need to balance rising inflation against the requirement to create more jobs. In a country where unemployment is now endemic, inequality a source of rising discontent, and corruption and land seizure are a daily scourge, the Government is engaged in a two-line struggle to maintain popular support. It is allowing its citizens ”freedom of expression” on discrete issues decided by the Government on the basis of their potential to promote a unifying chauvinism.

In other words, the rights of foreigners before and during the Olympics were abused because it was more important for China’s leadership to send a message to its own citizens: That the international community recognised the legitimacy of its rule over the whole country, including Tibet.That China was now a country with sufficient international status and power to put on the most technically impressive Olympics ever.That, in the process, no foreign or domestic political dissent would be tolerated.

Dr Kent is Visiting Fellow at the Centre for International and Public Law, College of Law, Australian National University and the author of Beyond Compliance: China, International Organisations and Global Security (Stanford University Press, 2007).