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Sol Sanders Archive
Monday, July 28, 2008

Forbidden City: Socialism still doesn't work, even at Olympics

Day by day the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing turns into more of a travesty.

Security concerns – real, and Beijing’s use of the issue as subterfuge for continued repression of the Tibetan and Uighur minorities – have become overwhelming. Even so the continued Keystone Cops performance of China’s People’s Armed Police suggest there may be less security than visitors would require – FBI and CIA technical assistance notwithstanding. The latest proof of the PAP’s ineptitude was a riot for remaining ticket sales.

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Anticipated protests against the Communist regime are now to be “processed” — in the “normal” Communist way, one assumes — and assigned to designated areas in a kind of “1984” vignette. Any kind of rooting or cheering for the participants has been curtailed in order to prevent anti-regime manifestations. The International Olympic Committee has gone along with new edicts on no political expressions. But with its own sordid history of dealing with seemingly no remorse with Saddam Hussein’s psychotic son for years, the IOC has now refused accreditation to Iraqi athletes. That’s even though it might have solved the problem by making them “Olympic athletes”.

Commerce in one of the world’s largest cities is being restricted in what may well be a futile effort to insure an atmosphere where athletes can breathe. Massive hydro projects turning whole rivers aside to supply necessary water for fountains and artificially greened areas are denying irrigation to desperate farmers suffering droughts in neighboring regions. One can only guess where the tens of thousands of former homeowners are now that they have made way for the new shining Beijing. Shades of Catherine the Great and her minister Potemkin!

Visas for visitors have become so restricted that hotels are reporting empty rooms where once they anticipated overflow. The games themselves may look not unlike those heavily policed lines welcoming the Olympic torch bearers, at home and abroad. That was an event, by the way, invented by the Nazis for the notorious 1936 games which set the stage for Hitler’s aggression and World War II..

What was to have been a glorious coming out party for China’s reemergence as a world power and the kowtowing of foreign potentates at the foot of the emperor has turned into an “in coming” celebration of chauvinism and aggressive nationalism. Han Chinese, not the Tibetans and the Uighurs, are the victims, the Chinese media would have us believe. But even this newly manufactured line of China’s victimhood — appealing to Chinese loyalties at home and among the Overseas Chinese — may not be enough to cover the mistakes of this $50 billion extravaganza gone astray.

Certainly nothing associated with the Olympics will solve China’s growing problems in the post-Olympic letdown that seems bound to come – growing inflation, falling exports, growing institutional corruption, deadly environmental problems, an unmanageable currency, increasingly raucous incidents over sequestration of land to benefit local Communists, etc., etc. And that national psychological downturn is to be expected, however successful the party is for the relative few who will be there and those enjoying the sports on TV.

The crown jewel of Beijing, the Purple Forbidden City of the last emperors, is the prime tourist attraction for those who do get to the games. Increasingly “Forbidden” is exactly what the Olympics are turning into, as convoluted, repressive and grim as those old palace halls once were.

It really is time for President George W. Bush to reexamine his decision to go the opening session of the games. His rationale for attending was that politics and sports were separate issues. That argument hardly holds water in an environment where everything is political. Furthermore, it is the kind of politics Washington has at great pain and suffering set its face against in other parts of the world. In fact, the American presence endorses Beijing’s continued support, open and secret, of pariah regimes from North Korea to the Sudan.

Given the nightmare that the games have turned into for the Chinese leadership, it hardly seems likely that Bush or any other attending leader is going to make much progress at solving international issues on its sidelines.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel long ago saw what a farce that whole show would be, given Beijing’s record on freedom for sportsmen or anyone else. France’s dancing ball, President Nicolas Sarkozy, hasn’t yet made his decision but it is clear that many of his entourage do not want him to go. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is almost obligated to go as symbolic of a continuing amelioration of relations between Asia’s two most important powers, largely at Beijing’s initiative after it stumbled into pushing Japan into a closer U.S. alliance.

Truth to tell, even a lame duck American president, given all the U.S.’ other problems, has plenty to keep him busy here at home. There is a plethora of legitimate domestic excuses for him not to go. It would not be untoward for him to call a special session of the Congress to attend to our problem at the gas pumps, what with the Democrats refusing even to allow offshore drilling and other issues to come to a vote before all go home for the American presidential sweepstakes. Bush could, legitimately, develop a sick headache with all he has to contend with during his final months. Attendance at this event by China’s most important trading partner and source of technology transfer is an endorsement of the worst aspects of the regime.

Mr. President, don’t go!

Sol W. Sanders, (, is an Asian specialist with more than 25 years in the region, and a former correspondent for Business Week, U.S. News & World Report and United Press International. He writes weekly for World and

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