Protests risk Chinese security

So, I guess it’s that time of year again, the time of last hurrahs and swan songs, when all of us graduating seniors get to take on the role of the stuffy old actor who’s on his last performance. We’ll reminisce about the good times, say the bad times weren’t really that bad, leave tidbits of advice for the young and then contemplate our futures.

This will be my last op-ed piece with the Technique, and while I should be droning on about the highs and lows of my undergraduate experience, I’d really like to do none of those things. So I’m not going to. I’m writing a little about the Beijing Olympics instead.

You could make a fairly sound argument against the Olympics being held in China, what with its impressive record for human rights abuses; it seems like a contradiction to host an international event that’s founded on the principle of peace in a country where peace has a different definition. Of course, it can be soundly argued the other way too. Anyone remember who the face was behind the ‘36 Berlin Olympics? But I digress. Let’s get to the point.

It’s been decided for years now that 2008 will belong to Beijing. So now what, violently protest the hell out of it?

I’m proud of the fact that here in America (and other Western states), we have this thing called freedom of speech. I’m a journalist, and without freedom of speech, my life would be a lot harder. But just because you can, doesn’t always mean it’s a good idea or that you should.

What these human rights, environmental, pro-independence, etc. protests are currently accomplishing is not what they seek to accomplish; instead, if the situation continues with this kind of emotional, political fervor, China’s hackles will rise as it backs into a corner. That may be the goal of the protests, but every pro-human rights person ought to think this through.

I don’t know about anyone else, but my faith in the Chinese government is only so-so. I think that there’s more of a likelihood for an internal crackdown and purging of liberal-minded officials in China (post-Tiananmen, anyone?) as a result of China losing face than there is of sudden democratization in response to these demonstrations.

Does anyone really expect China to suddenly say, “Hey guys, we get your message. We’ll do away with our non-Western standards, conform to what you want and allow a portion of our landmass to secede from our union immediately for the sake of the 2008 Olympics?” Maybe I’m just being a pessimist, but this kind expectation sounds pretty iffy.

The intended underlying message of these protests is that we mean business; the message that the Chinese government will recognize is sheer, voluminous disrespect for a country of 1.3 billion people with a 3,000 year history saturated with culture, traditions and yes – also lots of violence and tragedy.

China is a country that is finally beginning to come to terms with its own past, and it is rising in influence internationally. We can play on this aspect of China’s emergence. Instead of slapping China on the wrist for misbehavior (and subsequently sending it into another tightened death spiral) or isolating it, we should engage China in a way that will tease cooperation and international standards into becoming the status quo.

Here in America, we’re all about the quick fix, but our goal in this respect should be a long-term solution that ends with stability and not a short-term pleasure riot. Good change usually takes time.

This process will be slow and tedious. But I think that the international community ought to recognize China for the massive feats it has already accomplished in the 30 years since it opened and acknowledge its positive changes since the time of, say, the Cultural Revolution. The last time I looked, China had lifted around 400 million people out of poverty, and I’m sure that number’s even higher now. The Beijing Olympics should offer proof to China that the world is willing to play ball, so long as China is too.

And violence never works. Peaceful human rights protests should continue, petitions and diplomacy should continue, but organizations should disassociate from both the Olympics and the use of violence. I understand that this opportunity is a great way for organizations and lobbies to get covered by the media, but it’s a selfish, pig-headed and childish way to approach a topic that is way too sensitive for immature games.

I don’t want to see China lose faith in cooperation with the West and close up, and I don’t want to see nationalist Chinese sentiments rise to a dangerous level if China’s humiliated by publicized failure. This is not just a matter of a sports or peace; this is also a matter of pride for China, and the message should be that China still has a lot of catching up to do, but it can be proud of what it has done thus far. I’d also like to point out the rather positive effects that hosting the Olympics had on South Korea. For Seoul (‘88), the Olympics worked to further open the country to world scrutiny.

Anyway, the Olympics are about world unity and peace, and nations should be willing to work with China for advancement. I’m not trying to condone anything nor am I trying to play down the tragedies that have occurred. But as responsible, democratic-minded citizens half a world apart, we should proceed with dignity, thoughtfulness and no regrets. It can’t really be that hard to sit down at the table and share a meal once every four years, can it?