Supporting human rights means supporting the Beijing Olympics

Sporty
Photo owned by damon.garrett (cc)

It’s just a little over a week until kickoff of the Beijing Olympics, the biggest sporting event of the year. The care at which China has been manicuring her capital city and her image to the rest of the world demonstrates the importance she holds in a successful staging of the Games. Never before have so many eyes been ready to look at China. Just under four billion viewers watched each of the last three Olympiads a piece. I think it’s a safe assumption, that this year’s games will well exceed Sydney’s record of 3.9 billion viewers. The indigenous audience of the newly-monied Chinese middle-class will definitely be watching.

Now, there’s a healthy protest movement hell-bent on disrupting the Games because of accusations of human rights abuses leveled at Chinese authorities. You have to wonder if negative action, protesting in this case, will actually affect any change in China. I strongly doubt it will. In fact, protesting will probably result in a hardening of opinion towards the international community. Sounds like excellent fodder for propaganda magicians, right? The only benefit I see is that it’s an easy route to wringing Western guilt about human rights.

Economics are the only true way to affect change. I’m a couch economist, but even with my elementary understand on supply and demand curves, I can tell you that China is not hosting the Olympics so it can sustain a societal status quo. Holding an Olympics is like building a money-making machine for generations to come. It’s a flare to say, “come visit me, do business with me too”.

Money affects change, employment brings women out of their traditional maternal roles. Increased internationalisation of trade brings businessmen and emigrants into a country. As wealth settles through a society, the boats of many rise with a tide of enhanced living standards. Progress like this does not happen in a closed political vacuum; a place where rights of citizens is stamped on.

The political body of modern China is really is the strong base of a really big tree. Economic breakthroughs and the civic freedoms that they yield are branches that China needs to aspire to. Spitting on China for holding the Games without realising the sheer effort required to change an administrative engine that rules billions is nonsensical. Work on China’s political system may take generations. This is a long-term bet. I’d rather the job was done slow and well, wouldn’t you? I’d also prefer if change came from the Chinese people themselves. Since when has external pressure and shaping of politics inside a country ever resulted in a positive outcome?

Protesting and cutting off support for the Games because of ideological differences with a political system, will not cement international ties with that country. Ties that could be used as links and supports as a country gradually moves from international pariah to friendly deal-maker. I’ll not entertain comparisons with the Reich and 1932 1936 either. China is opening herself to the world culturally and economically, Germany was not.

Card-carrying, hemp-wearing protesters may believe they are fighting the good fight by protesting, but saying No like that isn’t worth a fig. Change needs to come from China herself. The spotlight is set to shine on China come August 8th, she’s ready to step into it. Are you?

Of course, just as this post is scheduled to be published Amnesty International honcho, Colm O’Gorman is on Phantom advocating positive action to highlight human rights issues in China. And no, I don’t agree with his thinking.

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15 Comments

  1. I disagree with you on several counts here, lexia. Firstly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “wringing Western guilt about human rights”, though of course it’s China’s guilt about them that is more important. I believe that the thrust behind much of the protest is to raise awareness of the human rights abuses, particularly in Tibet, rather than to stop the games themselves. I don’t think anyone realistically thought that was a possibility.

    Of course economics are important and I’m not disputing that, but the West, as the biggest buyer of China’s goods and services, has immense power – if it chose to use it. Raising awareness and attempting to make it normal or acceptable for Western business to use that power, is not a pointless activity IMO.

    “Progress like this does not happen in a closed political vacuum; a place where rights of citizens is stamped on.”

    But that seems to be exactly what IS happening. China’s economy grows, the West curries favour with her and the abuses are ignored because it’s not politic to raise them, or, heavens forfend, object to them by using economic leverage.

    “Since when has external pressure and shaping of politics inside a country ever resulted in a positive outcome?”

    South Africa? The support to black South Africans by the many campaigns in the West were incredibly important in effecting that change. This included many small boycott campaigns plus boycotts at governmental level. Ditto the support to the Solidarity movement. I’m sure there are others too; they’re just the ones that spring to mind.

    I agree that it’s a long-term bet, that’s a given, but all change starts somewhere, and every seed planted is part of the dialogue of change. I believe the games offer a chance to add to this in a significant way.

  2. Nice comment Debbie, thanks for putting your thoughts down.

    The trendy men on soapboxes are opining to their trendier followers that the Games ought to be stopped or disrupted at least. I wonder if this will happen during the Games and if it does, how Chinese authorities will deal with the situation.

    “But that seems to be exactly what IS happening. China’s economy grows, the West curries favour with her and the abuses are ignored because it’s not politic to raise them, or, heavens forfend, object to them by using economic leverage.”

    The West needs China more than China needs the West. On this we agree. External pressure from trading partners will not make a jot of difference. So, how is positive activism by rich Westerners that live in far-away lands going to affect change? Be realistic. That activism is about a million times less effective than the economic pressure (if the West applied it).

    “South Africa? The support to black South Africans by the many campaigns in the West were incredibly important in effecting that change. This included many small boycott campaigns plus boycotts at governmental level.”

    Hmm.. Being brutally honest, look at the demographics of South Africa, Debbie. Eighty percent of the population are Black African and less than ten percent are White. I think it was just a matter of time that something as despicable as apartheid was wiped out. It’s a shame that it took so long.

    When you look at other regimes around the world, is boycotting or the banning of international trade really that effective? Look to Cuba or North Korea. They’ve lasted decades without normal trade relations with the developed world.

    If boycotting were an effective mode of causing regimes to change and governments decided to use it – you’d be damned sure that Western nations wouldn’t use against China. China of today is powering economies all around the world. Entire corporations lean on China. Look at Walmart. I wonder how many people would lose their jobs directly and indirectly if trade with China were to be suspended.

    The Games do offer an opportunity for change and it’s a very long process, but perhaps the mode of change is different from the idealistic one you have in mind. China will only be changed by the Chinese. The will must be there.

  3. “there’s a healthy protest movement hell-bent on disrupting the Games because of accusations of human rights abuses leveled at Chinese authorities.” In all fairness they’re not just accusations.

    And if this is stuff intended to disrupt the games then isn’t it something that is happening in China? organised by people who are Chinese? Because (and I’m not 100% if I’m simply misreading this) are you objecting solely to people from abroad who are there are some sort of protest tourists or any type of protest at all no matter what the source? Because that would conflict with what you say later. “I’d also prefer if change came from the Chinese people themselves./Change needs to come from China herself.” The West does not need China more than China needs the West either, both are dependent on the other. As for boycotts not being effective, they’re not a quick as military action but if we abandon them as a means of acting then we’re just throwing our hands in the air and saying we don’t care what you get up to inside your borders just let us buy you cheap stuff. And what pressure does that bring to bear for any kind of positive change? None in my view, it simply encourages the continuation of state control in many areas of public life with minimal if any public consultation.

    Minor point but it was the 1936 Olympics that were in Berlin not 1932.

  4. Dan, what I’m addressing here is the Western protest movement. I think I made that more than clear. Did I not open referring to Western guilt?

    “The West does not need China more than China needs the West either, both are dependent on the other.”
    Now, c’mon. That’s a misrepresentation. Taking the US as an example. It’s China’s biggest trading partner by far. In 2006, the USA imported $286 billion of goods, China imported just $55 billion from the USA. China imports most of it’s goods from the USA. Using the USA as a touchstone for the West, it needs China more that five times going on raw figures of trade alone than China needs it. Right?

    Show me an example of an effective trading boycott. South Africa does not count as I pointed out before.

    My bad on the date, 1932 was in LA. Correcting.

  5. Then how can protests outside China disrupt the games? That is want confused me. If people in Ireland or the EU or Canada want to engage in lawful protest in their own countries against China’s human right record then that is fine by me. So too for those Chinese who want to do the same either here (where they will allowed do so) or in China (where I suspect they won’t be allowed). I think those who might consider travelling China to protest should either stay home or go see the sights or the game themselves. I don’t much hold with protest tourism.

    Going on those figures would mean that China needs America 5 times more that America needs China because China is dependent on the US as a marketplace into which to sell her goods. If the US decided to buy American (or more realistically Japanese (and even then much Japanese manufacturing happens in China) or Malaysian) who are the Chinese going to find as replacement customers of equal size? Us in Europe? We buy from them already, we’re not going to buy that much more. Now the truth is the Americans have loads of debt owed to the Chinese which is what evens up this co-dependency situation. You as a seller are dependent on your biggest customer, your customer can decide (and it may be a tough decision) not to buy or buy elsewhere.

    As for boycotts and trade sanctions, they’ve usually not been very strongly enforced though there are those who suggest that the sanctions against Iraq prevented Saddam from getting the WMDs that we all supposedly feared he might get and it seems he didn’t get them.

  6. “Then how can protests outside China disrupt the games? That is want confused me.”

    These sentences are confusing me.

    Equating the importance of the trading relationship between West and China seems to be shortsighted. USA won’t even comprehend replacing China goods, because it needs those cheap goods too much. So your musings will never come to pass. Does that not even indicate the importance of the relationship to the USA? Buy American is a laudable campaign, but the cost of labour etc pushes the prices of those goods up. As the USA faces a tighter economic future, do you really believe that the dominance of relatively cheap Chinese goods is going to wan? C’mon.

    “As for boycotts and trade sanctions, they’ve usually not been very strongly enforced though there are those who suggest that the sanctions against Iraq prevented Saddam from getting the WMDs that we all supposedly feared he might get and it seems he didn’t get them.”

    Is there something you know about the international trade of WMD materials that any Jack on the street doesn’t? What nations had the capability and more importantly the desire to trade but decided not to * because * Iraq was been boycotted internationally?

  7. Really interesting take on this subject Alexia. I can’t help but feel that the Chinese people need to take back their country and restore a democracy. Easier said than done, I know, but the economic pressures you outline are going to stop Western countries from getting involved. The change will have to come from within, there’s no other option to the country.

  8. Should have read “Then how can protests outside China disrupt the games? That is what confused me.”

    Apologies, I tend to mix up certain words when typing. You said “Now, there’s a healthy protest movement hell-bent on disrupting the Games because of accusations of human rights abuses leveled at Chinese authorities.” and I’m asking how you see protests outside of China being able to disrupt the games. Because, and I’m repeating myself I know, I agree it not being a good idea for people to go to China to protest and disrupt the games, but that isn’t what you’re saying is it – you’re saying that we shouldn’t allow protest here against China’s human rights record while the games are on. And that is simply not on on my view, it’s our country and provided it’s done in a legal and peaceful manner the Chinese will just have to suck it up. I, for one, have not forgotten that the Chinese in protests sanctioned and supported by the government attacked the Irish embassy in Beijing.

    http://archives.tcm.ie/irishexaminer/1999/05/11/fhead.htm

    In a government organised protest that was quite violent they couldn’t tell the difference between one embassy and another when they were standing right outside it lobbying masonry over the walls of it. And this was supposedly in protest at a NATO plane mistakenly bombing the Chinese embassy form 15,000 ft.

    As for Iraq, they didn’t have any WMDs when the Yanks et al went in did they? As Iraq not having them was one of the supposed aims of the sanctions, that would seem to count as a success. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1182275.stm And my question was what do you suggest as an alternative to sanctions? Strongly worded letters and some tut tutting?

  9. Thanks for coming back and clarifying..

    From your comment Dan: “.. you’re saying that we shouldn’t allow protest here against China’s human rights record while the games are on…”

    I’m not saying that protests shouldn’t be allowed. What I’m saying and I’ll quote myself here:

    “You have to wonder if negative action, protesting in this case, will actually affect any change in China. I strongly doubt it will. In fact, protesting will probably result in a hardening of opinion towards the international community. Sounds like excellent fodder for propaganda magicians, right? The only benefit I see is that it’s an easy route to wringing Western guilt about human rights.”

    Nowhere do I say that protests should or should not be allowed. I say that the only benefit I see to protests by Westerns in the West is relieving guilt. You are the one bringing should and should not to the table. I’m musing on the effectiveness of said demonstration. We live in a free society. People are free to gather and protest. I would love to see this in China. Any democrat would. Isn’t that what we all want?

    As for your example of the Chinese protest outside the Irish embassy in Beijing, I don’t have enough knowledge on the incident to comment. And it’s outside the bounds of the current discussion other to point out the need for the right of free and genuine demonstration in China. This does not have any bearing on argument of how Western demonstration on China is ineffective. In fact, it just goes to underline my point that appetite for change and pressure for political reform sits with the Chinese.

    I didn’t say that Iraq did have WMDs. I was asking you about their trade as you seem to know a lot about it. You were opining on sanctions, Iraq and WMDs. I’m just curious. This discussion really isn’t about my opinions on effectiveness of sanctions to Iraq and WMDs. Don’t drag the discussion into areas that are off-topic with the main theme of this discussion – China. I’ve spelled out over and over again my views on effectiveness of international boycotts against China. I’m not going to do so again. You can reread my thoughts above.

  10. My bringing of sanctions into it was due to an impression I got “Since when has external pressure and shaping of politics inside a country ever resulted in a positive outcome?” that you believe that external pressure is not effective, and if we accept that across all forms of external pressure (including sanctions) then what are we left with? I prefer non-violent methods and believe that protests, sanctions and so on are capable of being effective and have been so on those occasions where they’ve been used proper but they need to be consistently applied and they do take a long time. Something ‘the whest’ tends not to be good at.

    I think we have to agree to disagree on this one, I would sign off by saying that thinking that China will change solely because of internal pressure from the people of wishful thinking. Those individuals with power and where has been no tradition of real democratic structures are not simply going let their power just slip away. Look at us here in Ireland with our own history of hard won self determination where democratic oversight and involvement is disappearing inch by inch, day by day, to be replaced by those who believe themselves to be the natural rulers (don’t mind what policy we said we’d do, it should be enough that we’re the ones (and aren’t we grand folks all the same) making the decision) and a public content to believe them to be so. And who then go out and vote in a referendum and are content to say “no one informed me what it was all about”, I say ‘you’re a citizen of a republic and it is your responsibility to inform yourself’. I don’t mean – you – I mean them, whoever voted without informing themselves. I’m ranting and off topic so I’ll stop it there. As Dunphy would say.

  11. Bringing sanctions into the discussion is grand and fine when staying on-topic with China. I only hold issue with your drifting off into safe, political places like Iraq and WMD; issue points that have nothing to do with the thrust of this post.

    Yes, we seem to differ on the point of effectiveness, but if you believe in it, march to the beat of your drum and show us all how positive protest in the West can inform change in China. You say that this is “something ‘the whest’ tends not to be good at”. So, point out the errors of the approach. Forgive me, but I’ll stay a cynic for a bit longer.

    And Dan.. on that last paragraph, I agree, you are drifting dangerously towards ranting. Dangerously. I’ll not have accusations on the perception that the quality of democracy has been degraded under the administrative mantle of the current Government on this patch when we are discussing China. Wild off-topic accusations will not be entertained here. And tagging them onto a comment with the most tenuous of thematic links is cheap. And the Lisbon Treaty, were not your partners on the Yes campaign those very select colour of democrats you accuse of abusing democracy?

    I think we’ll stop here, as neither of us are contributing positively to forwarding a discussion on the future of China.

  12. Hang on, you asked “Show me an example of an effective trading boycott.” hence my response about sanctions and Iraq. You said nothing about that example having to be specific to China. You asked for an example, and you got one. We may disagree about it’s effectiveness but you were the one asking for an example.

    “I’ll not have accusations on the perception that the quality of democracy has been degraded under the administrative mantle of the current Government on this patch” you’ll not have…? Is it any wonder Twenty thinks the Irish blogging scene is boring. I hope the same opinion about the state of Irish democracy as I do about the state of democracy in the west in general. I was making specific reference to Lisbon because it was local and recent. However, I believe it to be true of many western democratic nations. I was merely giving a context to my views that relying on the people alone when it comes to China is mistaken.

    And what partners did I have on the Lisbon campaign? What campaign did I organise exactly? If you read my views at all, you would know that I only decided how to vote quite late in the day and I was very open about my reticence in doing so. There again why bother reading what people write when you can make up your mind in advance based on what affiliations they have.

  13. @Dan: Sure I ask for examples. Reasoned examples. I didn’t ask for you to clamber onto the Iraq and WMD. And flog it to death. You still haven’t answered my question on the international arms trade. Ah well..

    Oh, I’m well aware of your affiliations. They are clearly marked in your blogging style too. I do read your blog from time to time. Just one of many others, I read. But this is not the time and place for autographs.

    And leave Twenty out of this. Crying out and accusing me of bringing Irish blogging into boredom is disingenuous when you find yourself deep in the comments. You know what’s really boring? The same predictable din from the same voices.

    And as much as I enjoy our to-and-fros, I think we need a break from each other!

  14. Hi, I know I’m jumping in late here, but I just want to make a couple more points.

    1. Per the OP, I do think that it is important to make clear that it is the Chinese government who deserves to be criticized (and prosecuted, overthrown, etc.), not the Chinese people. I try to remember to phrase things this way, “The Chinese government has been putting Falun Gong practioners into forced labor camps and harvesting their organs,” rather than “The Chinese…” I just think it helps to make clear that people in China are not the bad guys here, it is their dictatorial government.

    2. I think that anything drawing attention to these inhumane abuses is a good thing, whether it disrupts the games in China or wakes up someone in the EU or United States to what is going.

    3. The United States government, and to a much lesser degree the EU’s, are also responsible for the abuses the CCP inflicts on its people. Our governments know what is going on, and yet don’t exercise their power to help stop it because our corporations, who are run by some of the same people in our governments and their friends and family, choose financial profits instead.

    You can read nonprofit research on these topics on the website of the nonprofit I work for, IssueLab, here– http://www.issuelab.org/closeup/Aug_2008

    Thanks, and I apologize if I repeated a point someone else wrote. I did read everything but miss things sometimes!

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