Editorial: Beijing not singing ‘Kumbaya'

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

China is reportedly spending $40 billion to host the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, making them the most expensive Summer Games ever. The communist nation is determined to project itself and its citizens as orderly, prosperous, clean and content as party leaders prepare to throw open their doors to the world come August.

But with the Games little more than four months away, China increasingly finds itself fighting global public relations battles.

The Olympic flame-passing ceremony in Athens was marked by demonstrations decrying China's ongoing crackdown on indigenous Tibetans. Riots broke out in Tibet last month after Buddhist monks loyal to their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, were arrested in a nonviolent protest. Since then much media attention has focused on China's 50-year occupation of Tibet and the deep cultural, religious and economic divisions it has caused.

Also last month, China was embarrassed when the men's marathon world record-holder said he would skip his signature event at the Games because he's worried about permanently damaging his lungs. Beijing's poor air quality — some say it burns the throat and eyes — has been a big concern for athletes and trainers.

In addition, China has come under fire for its human rights record, its treatment of pro-democracy dissidents, its economic ties to Sudan and its food safety, among other concerns.

Finally, China is keeping its own citizens in the dark. Ahead of the Games the International Olympic Committee is pleading with China to ease up on its policy of blocking access to certain Web sites, such as Wikipedia. It's a Great (Fire)Wall, if you will.

Unfortunately, in response to such criticism China is doing what the powerful do when things don't go their way: blaming the messenger. So desperate is it to control its image ahead of the Olympics — and to stave off boycott threats — it has gotten into the habit of blame-shifting. Tibetan unrest is the Dalai Lama's fault, China says, and the Western media is intentionally distorting coverage of the communist nation. Nothing to see here, folks. Please keep your eyes on the government-approved opening ceremonies.

China apparently doesn't understand that it can't have things both ways. When you invite the world into your home, don't be surprised if curious guests start poking around. What the guests will find, of course, is a China that has become an economic powerhouse but otherwise hasn't much changed its totalitarian stripes.

We optimists in the West — like spouses who never stop believing they can change their other half — hold out hope that if we can just expose others to our ideals of economic and social freedom, they'll grasp our hands and join in a chorus of "Kumbaya." And a Soviet-disentangled Russia would become our ally ... promise. And they'd be dancing in the streets of Baghdad, delirious at the prospect of embracing democracy, American-style. Our way is so obviously superior, how could they not?

Sometimes, we can be naive. Sure, we can do business with China. But it's also wise to be wary of China.

Peoria Journal Star