Olympic Games Show China Through a Glass, Darkly

Jonathan Fenby writes in the Times:

Apart from the Communist Party’s stake in the event, Chinese patriotism, which has a resonance rarely encountered in Europe these days, is aroused, something seen in the visceral reaction to protests against the Olympic flame on its way to China.

But, if one holds up a mirror to the Games, one can glimpse some challenging and unwelcome shadows that apply to China generally. For instance, concern about air pollution in Beijing interfering with the competition reflects the broader issue of China’s huge environmental crisis. Or take water – the shortage endemic to northern China is leading to the diversion of supplies to the city to avoid any embarrassment during the Games, with farmers in the surrounding province going short. China also faces an electricity shortage this summer, a situation aggravated by the channelling of power to the capital to ensure no brown-outs during the Games.

The rebuilding of Beijing underscores the gap between China’s urban growth centres and the vast rural hinterland. Although the Communist leadership seeks to promote a “harmonious society” that will lessen disparities, the wealth gap in China is greater than in the US or Europe, and is growing. Reports of corruption over Games projects strike another familiar note while rising prices echo the steep rise in inflation in China over the past year.

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