We’ve seen China’s true colors, said Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe, and I’m not talking about gold. The Beijing Olympics ended this week with another spectacular production number, and China has been praised for engineering an exciting Games that unfolded with clock-like precision. But outside of camera range, China was acting true to form as “the world’s largest dictatorship.” Dozens of political activists were arrested or beaten during the Games, as were 22 foreign journalists. Of the 77 Chinese who bravely applied to demonstrate in official “protest zones,” not one was given approval, and many were arrested. Among them were two elderly women who, like 1.5 million other residents of Beijing, lost their homes to make room for Olympic facilities. For trying to protest that policy, the women now face a year of “re-education through labor.” This is what you get when you let “thugs host the Olympics.”
The worst part, said The New York Times in an editorial, is that the International Olympic Committee was China’s willing collaborator. Beijing landed the Games by promising to honor the Olympic ideals of “nonviolence, openness to the world, and individual expression.” As China methodically ignored that pledge, the IOC “barely offered a protest.” President Bush, meanwhile, attended the opening ceremonies “eager to play the role of apolitical sports fan,” which neatly fit into “the Chinese script of talking up sports while shutting down politics.” Western democracies assumed that “engaging China” would foster political freedoms, said USA Today. But by lavishing huge sponsorship deals on the Chinese, Western companies “did more to reinforce Chinese leaders’ belief that economics talk loudest.”
“Get used to it,” said Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times. Just as China displaced the U.S. as the winner of the most gold medals, soon enough, “it will leave a similar outsize footprint in the arts, in business, in science, in education.” For the West, finding the right balance between engagement and criticism is extremely tricky, but it’s a challenge that must be faced. There’s reason to be hopeful. China is far more open now than it has ever been, and its eagerness to host the Olympics “bespeaks a larger desire for international respect and legitimacy. We can use that desire to shame and coax better behavior out of China’s leaders.” But don’t expect this process to unfold on our terms. “During the rise of the West, Chinese culture constantly had to adapt.” Now it’s our turn.
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