Monday, August 25, 2008

The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics – this is the end my friends

What the Chinese called a hundred year odyssey ended Sunday evening in Beijing when the 29th Olympiad the 2008 Summer Olympic Games reached their conclusion. Sports Business News asked one very important question in the days immediately preceding the Beijing Games – will the first ever Olympic Games being held in China be called the best ever Games. The answer now is what it was then – NEVER, NEVER, NEVER.

When it comes to facilities Beijing receives a gold medal. When it comes to execution of events Beijing receives a gold medal. When it comes to the lasting legacy the Games will leave – the Chinese may one day be wise to remember this not so old quaint Chinese Proverb "be careful what you wish for, lest it come true". China’s totalitarian communist government who for so long wished and dreamed the world would be their oyster if only the International Olympic Committee would award China the right to host an Olympic Games now have to face the reality of what happens when the door opens. It will not happen today, it will not happen tomorrow, next week, next year or maybe not even in the next decade. But as sure as the Olympic flame was extinguished Sunday in Beijing – the Chinese people one day will realize democracy – now that they’ve tasted freedom.

Over the last few days there have been a number of remarkable events that have taken place in Beijing and China . These moments in time have everything to do with the real lasting legacy the Beijing Games will have on the Chinese people, the world and if there is justice the International Olympic Committee and their major sponsors.

Wednesday The New York Times and the world media reported that two women displaced by the Games of the 29th Olympiad where sentenced to a year in a prison labor camp. As the Times put it; Wu Dianyuan and Wang Xiuying became the most recent examples of people punished for submitting applications to protest. A few would-be demonstrators have simply disappeared, at least for the duration of the Games, squelching already diminished hopes that the influx of foreigners and the prestige of holding the Games would push China ’s leaders to relax their tight grip on political expression.

“Can you imagine two old ladies in their 70s being re-educated through labor?” asked Li Xuehui, Ms. Wu’s son, who said the police told the two women that their sentence might remain in suspension if they stayed at home and stopped asking for permission to protest.

“I feel very sad and angry because we’re only asking for the basic right of living and it’s been six years, but nobody will do anything to help,” Mr. Li told The New York Times.

In the months leading up to the Games suggestions China’s totalitarian communist government would allow some free thought during the Games welcomed the news that protest zones would be set up for those who wished to ‘express’ their feelings about China during the Games.

“In order to ensure smooth traffic flow, a nice environment and good social order, we will invite these participants to hold their demonstrations in designated places,” Liu Shaowu, the security director for Beijing’s Olympic organizing committee, said at a news conference before the Games. He described the creation of three so-called protest zones and suggested that a simple application process would provide Chinese citizens an avenue for free expression; a right that has long been enshrined in China ’s Constitution but in reality is rarely granted.

“For Chinese petitioners, if their protest applications were approved, it would lead to a chain reaction of others seeking to voice their problems as well,” Mr. Li told The New York Times before the Games.

In what must have been a remarkable compliment to Chinese understanding – more than 75 (but less than 80) groups applied for permits. What makes this so ‘interesting’ all 75 to 80 groups thought better of following through with their planned protests.

Officials say that they received 77 protest applications but that nearly all of them were dropped after the complaints were “properly addressed by relevant authorities or departments through consultations.”

At a news conference on Wednesday, Wang Wei, the vice president of Beijing ’s Olympic organizing committee, was asked about the lack of protests. He said it showed the system was working. “I’m glad to hear that over 70 protest issues have been solved through consultation, dialogue,” he said. “This is a part of Chinese culture.”

But human rights advocates say that instead of pointing the way toward a more open society, the Olympics have put China ’s political controls on display.

“Given this moment when the international spotlight is shining on China, when so much of the international media are in Beijing, it’s unfathomable why the authorities are intensifying social control,” said Sharon Hom, the executive director of Human Rights in China in a New York Times report. “The truth is they’re sending a clear and disturbing message, one they’re not even trying to hide, which is we’re not even interested in hearing dissenting voices.”

The “lack” of planned protests and protestors didn’t stop six Americans from being arrested late last week and then being sentenced to 10-day prison terms as guests of the Chinese people.

According to various media reports: activists from the New York-based Students for a Free Tibet said Friday that they had no information about four other protesters who were detained early Thursday during a protest near National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest. The four are two Americans, a German and a Briton.

Extrajudicial detentions, a common punishment for Chinese dissidents, are rarely handed out to foreigners, who are often deported almost immediately after being taken into custody.

Members of Students for a Free Tibet have staged eight protests involving 55 people since the Olympics began on Aug. 8. Human rights advocates speculated that the government might be seeking to deter those contemplating similar activities in the Games’ final days.

J. Alexander Hamilton, a spokesman for the American Embassy in Beijing , said United States officials were working with Chinese authorities to gain more information about the detainees. “Our policy is to encourage the Chinese government to respect free expression and freedom of religion, which are protected by law,” he said.

According to The New York Times: On Friday, students for a Free Tibet declared that its Olympics campaign had succeeded and that it was winding down. In characteristically stealthy fashion, the announcement was made by two members who summoned reporters to a street corner with 20 minutes’ notice.

The members, Alice Speller and Ginger Cassady, said that even though the protests had been fleeting and witnessed by only a few Chinese, they had helped highlight the issue in the foreign media.

“ China is trying to show the world this face, that they are a modern, progressive country, but that really isn’t the truth,” said Ms. Speller, a law student from Britain in a New York Times report. “The real face is one that denies freedom of expression, and that denies it brutally and violently when it can.”

United States Ambassador to China Clark T. Randt Jr. said in a statement released Sunday that the Beijing government should demonstrate respect for human rights and free speech.

U.S. officials, he said, are "disappointed that China has not used the occasion of the Olympics to demonstrate greater tolerance and openness."

China is home to 1.3 billion people – nearly a quarter of the world’s population. What’s a few displaced Chinese when you have the chance to host an Olympic Games?

The Washington Post reported that Cheng Linpeng, 34, formerly a fish farmer, found a job at a construction company in the capital, working on a residential building. But that project was shut down in July because of worries about dust and air pollution ahead of the Games.

"Because of the Olympics, we are not allowed to do our jobs anymore. The whole place was shut down, and we don't know when we'll be able to go back," Cheng said. What’s the loss of one’s livelihood in terms of cleaner air?

And those empty seats at Olympic events – pity if Linpeng and his now unemployed friends wanted to attend at Olympic event – the thought never crossed their minds.

"Would we be allowed?" Cheng asked, explaining that migrant workers are considered second-class citizens in Beijing . "The place is not so big, and it wouldn't be able to hold everyone who wants to come. We are not qualified."

As for the lack of protests – what role if any could the International Olympic Committee have played? Did the Lords of the Rings hope and pray the Games of the 29th Olympiad where free of protests?

The IOC "has "completely mishandled the human-rights issues in these Games," said Minky Worden, a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch in a Philadelphia Inquirer report.

The China Daily noted that the move to set aside the protest zones "is in line with Beijing 's promises to the International Olympic Committee to adhere to the Olympic traditions, such as free expression outside the sporting venues."

"It must be the most cynical interpretation of the freedom to protest - that you follow the rules, apply five days in advance, then are turned away or put under house arrest or worse," Worden said in a telephone interview, adding that most Chinese applicants were aware of the potential risks.

"How desperate do you have to be to file a protest that would result in likely detention?" Worden said.

Dreamers dream big dreams. When Beijing was awarded the Games of the 29th Olympiad on Friday July 13, 2001 (who ever suggested Friday the 13th was a bad day) the Chinese assured the world by the day the Games opened on August 8, 2008 Human Rights would be a bedrock of China’s society. Needless to say that hasn’t happened, but… takes many years to really create lasting change.

"They'll keep most of the things in place—certainly the harassment of the dissidents—and we won't see any kind of greater move towards liberalization or opening up or anything like that," Adam Segal, senior fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations predicted in a Business Week report. "Did this change China 's view in the world? Is this a turning point? No. It will just reinforce your sense of a party that's completely insecure and lacking a great deal of confidence."

Cheng Li, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Business Week he believes the government's successful staging of the Games will be a boost to reformers. "I believe the Olympics [will] make China more open, more transparent, more tolerant, and more confident," says Li, who predicts progress on human rights and media freedom. "The Chinese government has become more confident because of a successful Olympics—that helps the liberal wing of the leaders…they will argue that we should not be so scared of the international media and international integration and also to a certain extent openness or transparency," he says.

Progress won't happen quickly, cautions Li. But he told Business Week he believes the Games will spur reform over the medium term. "Probably it will take another 5 to 10 years," says Li. "But who will win the battle is quite clear."

Which of course comes back to the earlier issue raised – it isn’t a matter of if but when China ’s totalitarian communist government are toppled. That will be the true lasting legacy of the Games of the 29th Olympiad that will be what the Games be remembered for – the day China’s totalitarian communist government opened Pandora’s Box.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Business Week.

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