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Columnists: Beijing 2008 -- Stop the sport of China-bashing

June 12, 2008

Chandran Nair
Ethical Corporation (UK)
June 10, 2008

Racism and hypocrisy lie behind the approach of western politicians,
campaigners and celebrities towards China, says Chandran Nair

Throughout most of Asia, the wave of anti-China sentiment surrounding
the Beijing Olympics is seen as a western-led effort with several causes.

One common view is that some western governments and companies see
China, and other emerging parts of Asia, as a threat to their
competitiveness and, because of a misplaced sense of superiority,
cannot help themselves from lashing out.

Second is the view that the star power of the anti-China contingent,
with celebrities such as Steven Spielberg and Mia Farrow voicing
protest over China's role in Darfur, provides the media with a
convenient platform to bash China.

Add to this politicians, such as French president Nicolas Sarkozy and
US speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi, showing solidarity with the
Dalai Lama and the protests at the international Olympic torch relay,
and talks of boycotting the opening ceremony gain wide public appeal
in the west.

To many in Asia, it is ironic that Chinese public anger at this
treatment is portrayed as nationalist fervour whereas similar
sentiment in other nations would be touted as patriotism. Many
Chinese and even neutral observers feel this portrayal is rooted in racism.

While it is not surprising that the Olympics is used to highlight
topical concerns, what is disturbing is the hypocritical nature of
the China-bashing. Tibet has been a political hot potato since the
1950s, yet international corporations have aggressively pursued
investments in China for decades. The question remains: if it was
acceptable to invest in China in 1990 or 2005, why is it not
acceptable to support its position as Olympic host today?

A look at the history of Olympic controversies shows that the subject
is riddled with double standards. The last event to be boycotted by
some western nations was the Moscow Olympics. Yet, no-one questioned
the Sydney Games even though the treatment of the aboriginal people
in Australia over the past 100 years could easily be called genocidal.

Boycott 2012?

Looking forwards, will anyone consider boycotting the London Olympics
given that the UK was a key partner in an illegal war that has killed
more than 100,000 civilians in Iraq, according to some estimates? Not
likely, despite the fact that the link between the UK and war crimes
in Iraq is much stronger than that between China and the awful
suffering in Darfur.

The clear message to be drawn from this is that western powers can
perpetrate human rights violations (witness Vietnam, Australia and
Iraq), while others must answer for them.

The hypocrisy of the current controversy by no means excuses China
from its responsibility in addressing the problems in Darfur and
Tibet. But the world needs to understand that these situations are complex.

To suggest that the Chinese are not doing anything is naive and
dishonest. In fact, the Chinese government is all too aware of the
importance of social reform, as is shown by the "harmonious society"
mandate that has dominated the policy agenda for several years. The
government sees that the Olympics are a positive influence and has
made significant steps by granting access to foreign media and
attempting to address pollution and child labour issues in Beijing.
Even in Darfur, diplomats credit China with helping to persuade Sudan
to accept a UN peacekeeping mission.

It can only be hoped that the west sees the damage it is causing
itself and perhaps even the Tibetans by targeting the Beijing
Olympics. The French have already witnessed the wrath of ordinary
Chinese consumers whose indignance has led to the closure of more
than 100 Carrefour stores nationwide. With the image of
wheelchair-bound Chinese athlete Jin Jing being attacked by French
mobs fresh in people's minds, it is no wonder that Chinese people
worldwide are livid at their leaders being called "goons and thugs"
by CNN commentator Jack Cafferty in April.

Western interests must realise that China's arrival as a global
superpower means it must be respected as an equal. They must also
understand that the rest of the world is watching. Western
corporations are much too dependent on the Chinese economy to pander
to the superficial posturing of their media and politicians.

As far as human rights is concerned, much more needs to be done in
China. But an attempt to look beyond ideological stereotypes and
embrace an active engagement policy is the only way to proceed.

Chandran Nair is founder and chief executive of Global Institute for Tomorrow.;
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