Why China Loves the Olympics

Muhammad Cohen writes in the Guardian:

It was easy to spot in Sichuan, and it will undoubtedly be prominent as the Olympics unfold. When the Olympic torch toured the earthquake-ravaged province just days ahead of the games, thousands of onlookers sported identical “I (heart) China” T-shirts. The shirts aren’t just a fashion statement in this Olympic moment, but a political statement.

“I (heart) China” serves as the Beijing regime’s succinct public response to foreign criticism of China’s human rights record: If our people love our country, then you meddlers from outside ought to just shut up. It’s a fair point.

…A much better way to try to change China would be to eschew public criticism and, as the Olympic behaviour guide for Beijingers recommends, avoid public displays of affection for the Chinese leadership. In other words, effusively praise China for its cooperation with the US on North Korea nuclear disarmament, for example, while privately condemn human rights abuses and deny it propaganda victories like appearing at the Olympics, unless earned by specific actions. Rather than meet publicly with five freed dissidents at the White House recently, Bush should have demanded privately that China release the dozens of dissidents it has arrested as part of its pre-Olympic cleanup effort before he agreed to board Air Force One for Beijing.

If Beijing meets the demands, you’ve won a significant victory and Beijing gets a reward. If Beijing doesn’t cooperate, you’ve denied the regime the oxygen of propaganda so vital to maintaining its grip on hearts and minds. The less potent the propaganda, the more likely China’s public will be to question what they hear from the official media. But, no matter what you do, it’s up to China’s people to start asking the questions. Eventually, they may come to understand that for Chinese as well as foreigners, there’s nothing incompatible with challenging the government while wearing an “I (heart) China” T-shirt.


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