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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

China coming out its way

China Post: Aug. 27 08 - Like it or not, China has come out in her own way through the Beijing Olympic Games. It scored the most gold medals (51, 15 more than the U.S. in second) and more important, kept its censorship intact on Tibet and Falun Gong issues despite international criticism.

The Beijing Games were a victory for the ruling communists, the victory of a one-party state that has removed the spontaneity and joy of the Games, and proved form can triumph over substance.

Beijing leaders used to believe in communism; now they simply believe in communist rule. Each Olympics goes a long way to characterize the host nation. Thus it was, for example, that the Barcelona Games finally expunged the image of Spain's fascist past and established the vibrancy of a relatively new democracy. The Moscow Games were definitive in reaffirming the grim reputation of the old Soviet Union. Enough has been said about Hitler's Olympics in Munich to be sure of its lingering impression on the world.

However, when the authoritarian regime in South Korea sought to use the Seoul Games to assert the supremacy of the dictatorship, it ended up signaling its demise. The Beijing leadership is sure the same won't happen in China.

Those who look to the Olympics to affirm China's position as a world power capable of staging world-class events should not be disappointed. Those who said the state should display ruthless authoritarianism have equal cause for satisfaction.

Beijing's cheerleaders rightly predicted that China had the ability to produce a spectacular and well-organized event that would linger in the memory for its magnificence.

And the critics, who were concerned over the impact on human rights and freedom of expression, also proved to be correct because China quickly abandoned pledges to allow demonstrations or permit reporters to do their job freely; nor was the great firewall surrounding the Internet in China dismantled.

But as Beijing has sentenced two frail women in their late 70s to labor camp because they insisted on applying to hold a legal protest during the Olympics, then that is an outrage to be addressed not by "silent diplomacy" but by crying it out aloud.

At a cost of US$40 billion, the Beijing Olympics represented the most expensive coming-out party in history, many doubt whether China will earn a decent return on its investment. The anticipated influx of tourists did not materialize, and despite "selling every ticket" efforts, venues were less than half full.

The total number of visitors to the city this month is virtually unchanged from the figures from the previous August. Sports fans have crowded out regular visitors during what is normally a busy tourist season, and strict security measures have scared away other potential guests. The Olympics have instilled a sense of pride in the Chinese people, over 80 percent of whom report that they believe the country "is on the right track." An astounding 93 percent of Chinese surveyed by the Pew Research Center said the Games would improve the country's image.

China won 51 gold medals, which is the highest tally for any nation since the former Soviet Union won 55 in Seoul in 1988. For the 1.3 billion Chinese, the US$40 billion Games was worth it.

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