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"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."

Speaking Freely: Olympics and Opium Wars

August 2, 2008

By Richard L King
Asia Times (Hond Kong)
August 1, 2008

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest
writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in

In a few days, the XXIX Summer Olympiad will be held in Beijing. The
opening ceremony will begin precisely at 8:08 am on August 8, 2008 or
808.8.8.08. The number 8 is an auspicious number in China ,
equivalent to lucky 7 in the West - July 7, 2007, saw a rash of
weddings all around the US.

Hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors - not to mention more than
20,000 journalists - will be descending on China. They will marvel at
the ultra-modern architectural wonders. Most will arrive by air,
landing in the new Terminal 3 of Beijing International which was
designed by British architect Norman Forster.

In the city, visitors will be able to gaze at the "Bird's Nest", the
main stadium designed by the Swiss firm Herzog and de Meuron. There
are other outstanding buildings such as the National Center for
Performing Arts, nicked named "The Egg". Its architect is Paul Andreu
of France. There are other outstanding buildings such as China
Central TV ( CCTV)'s headquarters, designed by Dutch architect Rem
Koolhass, and the whimsical Beijing National Aquatics Center nicked
named "The Water Cube".

But there is another landmark sight that visitors should see: the
burned ruins of the former Summer Palace, or Yuan Ming Yuan. It was a
collection of palaces containing more than 200 buildings that housed
irreplaceable works of art - paintings, sculptures, porcelains and
manuscripts. It is located only minutes away from the Olympic park.

But it's a world apart. In the 19th century, when Britain forced
opium on China, the Chinese government rightly resisted and this
precipitated two so-called "Opium Wars". The Treaty of Nanking in
1842 gave Britain the right to continue to sell opium to China, and
China was forced to open five treaty ports granting extraterritorial
rights to Britain, ceding Hong Kong to Britain in perpetuity. But
Britain still was not satisfied; it once again invaded China, this
time with France, in 1860.

On the order of Lord Thomas Elgin the Summer Palace was burned down.
The Hindi word "loot" entered the English lexicon at that time when
Anglo-French soldiers stripped the palace of its treasures. China was
forced to make further concessions and to pay a huge indemnity to the victors.

The clash between the two empires in the 19th Century was a total
mismatch. Britain was at the zenith of Pax Britannia, and China was
at the nadir of its long history. Britain had advanced modern
weapons, while China was still fighting with bows and arrows. The
resulting destruction and slaughter of tens of thousands of Chinese
will always be a blot on Britain''s history.

Some may say that these events took place more than a century and
half ago and that China should let bygones be bygones. However, these
injustices were righted only recently, especially from the Chinese
perspective of its long history. When asked in 1972 what he thought
about the success of the French Revolution, the late Zhou En Lai's
response was: "Don't you think it's too soon to tell?" The
elimination of extra-territorial rights took place only in 1943, a
century after being forced on China. And China did not recover Hong
Kong until 1997.

If anyone, especially those from the West, wishes to criticize China
about human rights, religious freedom and corruption; they should be
sensitive to China 's sense and sensibility. Forcing opium on China
enslaved a generation of Chinese and caused corruption on a scale
that dwarfs anything in present-day China or even current chaos in Mexico.

Quoting Travis Hanes and Frank Sanello's excellent book, Opium Wars:

"Imagine this scenario: the Medellin cocaine cartel of Columbia
mounts a successful military offensive against the United States,
then forces the US to legalize cocaine and allow the cartel to import
the drug into five major American cities ... plus the US has to pay
war reparations of $100 billion for the Columbians' cost of waging
the war. That scenario is of course preposterous. However, that was
exactly what Britain forced on China . Along with opium came
Christian missionaries whose zealous attempts to convert "heathen"
Chinese destroyed indigenous religions in the process and served as a
helping hand to the colonial exploits of the West."

If the new buildings represent China 's renaissance, the burned out
Summer Palace remains a symbol reminding China of its past weakness
and humiliation. In the 1800s, China paid Western imperialists'
thirst with blood. Now in the 21st century, China is paying Western
thirst for profits in cash, and it can afford to. There is certain
irony that two of the main attractions are designed by Forster and
Andreu whose forbears were the ones who burned down the Summer Palace .

The West, with this stain on its past, lost its moral high ground a
long time ago. It will have to earn that trust from China with acts
of constructive engagement, not lectures, if we are to see a world
that is truly global, and not a continuing clash of civilizations.

Richard L King, PhD, has been in the investment industry for more
than 30 years. He received his PhD in nuclear physics from New York
University in 1970 and also attended Stern Graduate School of
Business at NYU. He is currently a venture partner at GRP Venture
Partners, a large partnership based in Los Angeles which manages more
than $600 million. He is also an adviser to Next, the Finnish venture
partnership firm specializing in wireless technologies with offices
in Helsinki and in Silicon Valley. Originally from Shanghai, Dr King
is a grandson, on both sides of his family, of two of the founders of
the Bank of China.
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