Join our Mailing List

"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Opinion: Orville Schell: China's post-Olympic challenge

August 28, 2008

Orville Schell
Business Standard (India)
August 27, 2008

New Delhi Aug. 27 -- Almost everyone in the world who watched the
2008 Olympics in Beijing was impressed by China's preparations, the
acumen of the Chinese in running such a complex and challenging
event, and the rich harvest of medals -- especially gold medal —that
Chinese athletes won.

It was abundantly evident in the run-up to the Games how important it
was to Chinese everywhere to show themselves to advantage. One got a
sense of this when China's reputation and the Games' status came
under attack during the Tibetan demonstrations and protests against
the Olympic torch as it made its tortured progress around the world.

But, when all was said and done, through what turned out to be often
Draconian controls, China pulled off quite a feat! Indeed, it is hard
to imagine that the British will care as much, or go to such
extremes, for the London Olympics in 2012.

For many years, especially since the Tiananmen Square massacre of
1989, China has felt a deficit of global respect. This feeling has
deeply troubled its leaders and filled its people with a sense that,
despite all their economic progress, their proper place in the world
was not only eluding them, but being denied to them by the endless
criticism of the so-called "developed world."

For the last two decades, Chinese leaders have been diligently trying
to build a new edifice in order to gain some of that missing respect.
This made a successful Olympic Games, when all the world would be
watching, an urgent matter.

But, now that the Games have ended, Chinese leaders cannot quite say,
"Mission accomplished."

While China's achievement is worthy of genuine esteem, its efforts to
gain a full measure of international respect and real "great power"
status will not succeed until it matches its new economic and
military power with a certain essential moral force. That, in turn,
requires a society and a leadership that seeks to be exemplary in all
ways that make human beings more human, including respect for
truthfulness, openness, tolerance, and people's right to disagree
with their government.

I fear that China's leaders and people will continue to feel a
certain gnawing, inchoate sense of deficiency and incompleteness in
their quest for global respect until they find the strength to begin
addressing the crucial, but elusive, issue of making China an
ethical, as well as an economic and military, power. For a country
steeped in millennia of Confucianism, the need for ethical leadership
should be clear.

To fully address the question of the moral and ethical base of a new
form of Chinese governance, China's government and its people must be
able to look back freely and come to terms with their recent history:
the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the events of 1989,
Tibet, and other sensitive issues. They must also freely be able to
discuss the future and what kind of society they wish to see rise
from the ashes of Mao's revolution.

I make these somewhat critical observations about China not with any
sense of moral superiority or a wish to relieve myself of the
responsibility to level the same critique at my own country's recent
failures. As most of the world knows, America's quest to maintain its
claim to the title of "greatness," has, of late, also been elusive.

Arriving from different staring points, both the United States and
China now find themselves confronting a similar challenge: restoring
global trust and respect. Their success inevitably requires directly
confronting their evident moral failures.

If many of those same viewers who have been impressed by China's
successes in Beijing now also find themselves recoiling at the idea
of a stronger and more prideful China, that is understandable. For
strength unalloyed by checks and balances -- and by a capacity for
self-critical reflection about the rightness and wrongness of state
action — can be unnerving. Many Americans, too, have recently had to
learn this.

One hopes that China will derive a new measure of respect and
self-confidence from these astounding Games. But one also hopes that
China's successes will enable its leaders to feel strong enough to
begin looking honestly at China's recent past in a more critical way.
Such forthrightness is not easy for any country. But, having
completed such an important step forward, China must now find new,
more humanistic ways to continue to re-invent itself.

The author is the Director of the Asia Society's Center on US-China Relations.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank