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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

As China gets heat, foreigners feel the chill

May 1, 2008

Hospitality gives way to wariness, anger

By Edward Cody
Washington Post
April 30, 2008

BEIJING - At an airport in northeast China, a young security guard
recently spotted a foreign airline passenger with shaving cream in his
carry-on bag. "No," he said sternly, wagging his finger like a cross
schoolteacher. "No, no, no."

In a country where airport security is unfailingly polite and efficient,
the guard's stiff attitude spoke volumes.

Just weeks ago, most Chinese were welcoming foreigners as Olympic guests
and partners in the country's meteoric economic development. But as the
country enters the final 100 days before the Olympic Games in Beijing,
the mood has changed. Many Chinese have begun to regard foreigners as
adversaries interfering in domestic affairs or, at worst, bigots
unwilling to accept China's emergence as a great power.

The Olympic torch left China only a month ago on what was billed as "a
journey of harmony." Instead, the torch became a moving target for
protesters worldwide. The focus of most demonstrations was China's
crackdown against the Tibetans who rioted March 14 in Lhasa. Other
protesters criticized China's role in the Darfur conflict. By the time
the torch was paraded Sunday in Seoul, poor treatment of North Korean
refugees was added to Beijing's list of sins.

The government's reaction to the unexpected avalanche of criticism was
shrill. It described the protesters as "separatist elements" and claimed
that they were seeking the breakup of the country, perhaps as part of a
conspiracy. It railed at foreign media coverage, accusing reporters and
editors of unspecified "ulterior motives."

The coordinated campaign was framed in an us-and-them mode, sharply at
odds with the spirit of the Olympics, whose slogan is "One World, One
Dream." The party's official newspaper, People's Daily, ran an editorial
last week suggesting Chinese should be confident enough in their own
greatness to rise above the criticism. The headline was a Chinese
aphorism that means roughly, "A gentleman does not worry about the dogs
yapping at his heels."

The circle-the-wagons approach found a ready audience in China. A recent
survey by a Beijing polling group indicated that more than 80 percent of
those questioned believed Western news media were conveying a biased
image of China abroad.

"The Chinese people do not like outsiders to make comments on China's
domestic affairs," said Victor Yuan, who runs the polling group,
Horizon. "They think it's their business, not your business."

Meanwhile, a fervidly nationalistic campaign flared online, as Internet
users suggested that foreigners were bigoted against China and that
Western businesses should be boycotted. Demonstrators gathered in front
of stores run by Carrefour, the French superstore chain, in several
cities around the country.

Carrefour received special criticism because Chinese bloggers spread
reports that its owners had donated money to India-based Tibetan exile
groups run by the Dalai Lama. The firm's headquarters in Paris denied
that was true, but the bloggers paid no heed.

Chinese Internet censors, who control what people say online, did
nothing to dampen the fervor. And police, who prevent most
demonstrations, blocked protesters from reaching the French Embassy in
Beijing but otherwise allowed the outraged youths to vent their fury.

A Chinese woman working for The Washington Post was pushed around at one
such demonstration by young Chinese men who suggested she should be
careful about working with a foreign publication. An American man who
showed up at another Carrefour store for some shopping was roughed up as
well, perhaps on the mistaken assumption he was French.

In recent days, Chinese authorities have sought to pull back the
nationalist tide. Editorials in the controlled press suggested to youths
that carrying out their assigned tasks is the best way to demonstrate
patriotism. Internet censors started blocking items with the word Carrefour.

Yuan said his poll findings do not suggest the current troubles over
Tibet and the torch will last long enough to generate an unfriendly
atmosphere during the Olympics. Similarly nationalistic protests against
Japan two years ago have long since faded from the screen, he noted.

"Maybe during the Games Chinese spectators will boo the French teams,
but they will not overreact," he said.

Behind the public mood, however, has come a simultaneous tightening of
security that officials say is likely to last until after the Games. It,
too, has contributed to the change in atmosphere.

Foreign residents of the capital report that police have started
checking their identification cards and passports with greater
regularity, in some cases visiting homes and offices to do so. According
to Chinese law, foreigners should always have their passports with them,
but the rule has been allowed to lapse in recent years as the number of
foreigners working here increased.

But perhaps nowhere is the new mood more palpable than in Tibet, a
premier tourist destination that has been closed off to foreigners since
March 14. As a result of the ban, most foreign journalists have been
barred from covering the torch relay through Tibet, including plans for
a photogenic climb up Mount Everest. Nine foreign newspapers and
broadcasters have been allowed in to cover part of the relay, but only
for 10 days in a carefully shepherded trip.
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