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China, the Olympics and the World David Zweig Director, Center on China’s Transnational Relations Hong Kong University of Science and Technology 27 May 2008
Conflicting Expectations between China and the West • China hoped to “reap reams of soft power” from the Olympics • But for a variety of reasons--product safety, Tibet, media controls, political repression, etc.,--it has not been able to portray the picture to the world that it wanted to send. • The world expected China to change over night, but has had to deal with the fact that China’s domestic politics remain highly authoritarian and its foreign policy alliances are questionable. • These conflicting expectations have fired up Chinese and foreigner alike, leading to a quite rocky road to the Olympics. • All of this occurs in the context of a “rising China”—taking greater role in international trade, exports, foreign affairs—establishing stronger relations with Africa, Asia, and South America; • As the U.S. Hegemon, China’s rival, is in decline.
China’s Expectations from the Olympics: Soft Power and Sports Power • China’s plan was to use the Olympics to demonstrate its rise and the great accomplishments of the past 30 years. • Enhance its ‘soft power”—Hu Jintao has personally focused on enhancing soft power. • It has spent 290 billion RMB (US$33 billion) on infrastructure.
Winning a “War without Weapons” • In 2002, China established the “Plan to Win Glory” program to win the 2008 Olympics when its sports teams set aside millions of RMB to improve the quality of its competitors. • Main goal: beat the US for medals. • The number of Chinese athletes very high, 570/1700 athletes at Olympics will be Chinese. • Some Chinese national teams were sent to army barracks for military training. • majority of medals China is likely to win are by women.
Remarkable Reforms—But beware of the dirty laundry • China wants to show the world how its reform program had transformed China from a backward country—the sick man of Asia—into a world power that could pull off a world-class event. • By successfully pulling off the Olympics, China says to the world, “look at us; we have become a great power.” • But when you invite people into your home to show it off, they will see many problems hidden in the closet. • People see not only the greatness of the past 30 years, but all the problems that have emerged. • Especially problematic because under agreement with IOC, China must let international journalists have free reign of the country, so they can report the problems that China faced.
Enhance national reunification and National unity • Using Olympics to enhance national reunification and national unity • One world, one dream”– a great China • Hong Kong hosting events, create national pride; • What Xu Xin called “the connection of the high politics of nation building with the low politics of sports.” • Bring Taiwan into the fold, but negotiations totally failed; • This may be one reason there was so much astonishment at the Tibet riots—the exact opposite of this goal was the result—triggered national disunity and issue of separatism.
The World’s Hyped-Expectations:Promises, Promises • China doesn’t change political very quickly and remains plagued by many problems that affect the fastest developing country in world history; • China suffers from what I call the “externalities of development,” land confiscation, pollution, faulty product quality, explosion of automobiles--all under a system that is too poorly regulated—not overly regulated.
The Search for a “Responsible Power” • Many in the West want to see a more “responsible power” emerge from the Olympics, one that, in their eyes, is deserving of “great power” status. • The world opened to China’s goods—China joined the WTO and plays by the rules--but the quality of too many of those goods is poor, so the previously domestic poisonings in China become “transnational events.” • 60% of Americans have pets—4,000 died from bad pet food; • Long list of bad products erupted as we moved to Olympics. • China’s resource hunger creates alliances with immoral, “pariah nations—Burma, Zimbabwe, Iran, Venezuela, Sudan—a long list of states that ignore international norms, • so the world—especially U.S.—scrutinize China’s foreign policy; • the West questions China’s morality in foreign policy and wonders about what kind of world it will promote as it rises.
The West Waits Impatiently for China’s Political Transitions • The West wants to see China transition towards democracy • South Korea’s Olympic experience set a dangerous precedence for China, foolishly raised Western expectations; • China promised to enhance media freedom for both international and local journalists as well—has done so for foreign journalists, but tries to constrain negative reporting by local journalists in buildup to the Olympics. • With so many issues upon which Chinese government and international community disagree, foreign governments and foreign NGOs are disappointed by China’s refusal to enhance freedom. • Tibet’s repression reinforced concern festering in minds of many people, that China is getting away with hosting the Olympics without carrying out political reform.
The Politicization of the Olympics Once this enormous gap emerged between Western and Chinese expectations, the Olympics had to be politicized.
The international component • Politicization: “the effort by the West to hold China accountable for its domestic and international behaviour, and where it finds China falling short of Western expectations, the West becomes willing to use the Olympics to pressure China to make political concessions.” • The West views China through the lens of Tiananmen Square, an authoritarian state that has done amazing job of developing its economy, but at enormous costs to the environment, human rights, product safety, and the development of a democratic society. • Since China made commitments to the IOC about political and media reform, West feels justified in holding China’s feet to the fire. • West sees the Olympics as unique moment to pressure China to meet the its Olympic commitments, and get it to alter its international and domestic behaviour.
Domestic component to politicization • CCP sees Olympics as great opportunity to build domestic legitimacy and show the people of China that their motherland has become a great power. • 30 years of reform brought great success, and people of China, after a century of humiliation, should feel proud of what they and the CCP have accomplished. • How important is this event to China? • Its leadership gave its next leader, Xi Jinping, responsibility for insuring the success of the Olympics. • Equivalent to U.S. giving U.S. Vice President responsibility for the Atlanta Olympics and telling him that if it doesn’t go well, he will not be able to run for president.
Domestic component to the politicization, 2 • China has emphasized the fact that so many leaders of the world will attend the event. • Their attendance is meant to give China international prestige, or “face” (mianzi) and show the Chinese people that the Middle Kingdom is alive, well and recognized. • And as the hostility of the West grows, China is able to use foreign forces to rally the people around the CCP and the country by appealing to its nationalism. • And the effort has been largely successful, as Chinese people worldwide are full of pride for the rise of their country.
Americans say: “Politicize the Olympics!” • Many in the West resent that CCP using this international event to build legitimacy, to strengthen its rule, especially when they see China’s domestic and foreign behaviour running against global norms. • Strong support in the U.S. for politicizing the Olympics and using it to promote human rights within China. • NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, summer 2007, Americans ranked "improving human rights" as the most important thing the Chinese government could do in the run-up to the Olympics, ahead of implementing environmental policies or practicing fair trade. • May 2007, UPI/Zogby poll, 58 percent of Americans supported using Games to protest China's human rights policies.
Transnational Component • Olympics as an international event, where people, prestige, investment and goods cross international boundaries. • Important variation in how the event is cast on the two sides of the border and in Chinese and Western communities. • Explosion of nationalism by overseas Chinese students. • Triggered by West’s somewhat biased reporting of the riots in Tibet; • suggested that Western media wants to prevent China from enhancing its “soft power” during the Olympics. • Jack Cafferty fit right in, denigrating China’s leaders, products, and labour policy— • “basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they’ve been for the last 50 years.” • Even as China seeks Western media help in promoting its soft power, Cafferty undermined those efforts by referring to their products as “junk with the lead paint on them and the poisoned pet food and export, you know, jobs to places where you can pay workers a dollar a month to turn out the stuff that were buying from Wal-Mart.”
Students Views on the West and the World • Striking aspect of wave of marches that swept Chinese communities worldwide was their pro-government nature. • How does a strong perspective mesh with view that studying in democratic countries leads students to adopt more internationalist perspectives and accept the idea that China should engage with the world? • Western governments encourage Chinese students to study abroad so that, when they return to China, they will form a force for more open, engaged China; and one that will look favourably on their host country. • Anti-Western anger of protestors calls this into question.
Students Views on the West and the World • In 2006, a team of researchers from Hong Kong and the mainland carried out a nationwide survey of 9,000 Chinese citizens. • Some questions tapped views on international affairs. • In 2006-07, similar questions were asked of 2,000 former overseas students who had returned to China from Japan and Canada. • A comparison of the views of these two groups--foreign-educated students who returned to China and Chinese who never went overseas--offer some surprising insights into these recent events.
“Constructive Internationalism” • Compared to general population in China, returnees far more supportive of Beijing’s “constructive internationalism.” • 81% of returnees support either increasing financial aid for Third World or sending medical teams to Africa, • only 64% and 70% of locals, respectively, supports these two expressions of internationalism. • Returnees had extremely positive views of the country which hosted them during their studies. • Among returnees from Japan, a country most Chinese hate, their most favourite country from a list of eight countries—including the U.S., Canada, France and Japan—was Japan. • Similarly, returnees from Canada chose Canada as their favourite country, placing Japan near the bottom of the list.
“Assertive nationalism” • Returnees and locals much closer on other views of foreign policy. • Four questions evaluated the strength of what we call “assertive nationalism.” (1) whether people should support their country, “even if it is wrong;” (2) whether foreigners should be prevented from buying state-owned enterprises; (3) whether they felt that some foreign country wanted to contain China’s rise; (4) whether China should limit imports to protect domestic enterprises.
“Assertive nationalism” 2 • Over 40% of returnees agree that Chinese should support their government’s foreign policy, “right or wrong,” while 25% have no opinion on this issue. • Among locals, 66% agree with this statement. • And when we combine responses to these four questions into this single category we call “assertive nationalism,” few differences (measured by mean score) emerge between the two groups.
“Assertive nationalism” 2 • With greater access to information, they see hypocrisy when Western countries, which decimated their indigenous communities, lecture China about how it “misrules” Tibet. • Proud of Beijing’s Olympic moment in the sun, they bristle, as do all Chinese, when Western media emphasizes the negative aspects of China’s reforms, rather the accomplishments of the past 30 years. • Having seen how developed the West is, they are proud that their own country is rising and taking its place among the powerful states of the world. • Living abroad, they have the freedom to protest; • As nationalists, that is exactly what they did.
Worries down the road: Can you use Water Cannon? • How will it deal with foreign protestors, who may resort to violence, with the eyes of the world there in Beijing? They better learn how to use water cannons effectively. • How will China behave when its citizens demonstrate excessive nationalism and celebrate victories in ways that demonstrate great hostility towards the West, particularly the U.S. and Japan? • How will the Western media now respond to possible Chinese misbehaviour, having been chastised so badly over the Tibet crisis?
Conclusion: The Olympics, the World and China’s Peaceful Rise • China mistrusts the West, particularly the US since it tried to stop China from getting the Olympics. • China sees itself as the rising power, challenging the global hegemon, and it expects the world and the U.S. to try to utilize the Olympics to undermine its rise and its “soft power.” • Many people in the world want to see China succeed, or worry that a failed Olympiad will leave China angry at the world, increasing the likelihood that its rise will be destabilizing, rather than stabilizing, force. • This East-West conflict is deeply troubling. • China will continue to rise and the Olympics was to be China’s debutante ball, its coming-out party, and imbue it with reams of soft power. • But the “one dream” Olympic theme has so far been closer to a nightmare;
Conclusion: The Olympics, the World and China’s Peaceful Rise, 2 • Westerns media has emasculated the soft power aspirations by shining its spotlight on the dark side of China’s policies. • The type of responses we saw from China’s youth, both at home and abroad, suggest that unless East and West enhance their understanding, Chinese citizens, including those who studied abroad and have since returned, will not constrain Beijing’s foreign policy, should it not rise peacefully; • They, too, will see the West increasingly as the opposition that wants to hold China back from resuming its once glorious global stature. • So, in the end, the Olympics has enormous political significance, for China, for the West and for the World. • Let us hope that it will be successful.