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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

China, this is the world

July 4, 2008

Frank Devine
The Australian
July 4, 2008

WE should all wish the People's Republic of China success as host of
the 2008 Olympics, for which it has made heroic efforts to prepare itself.

Expenditure on Olympics-related construction in Beijing has passed
$40 billion. The city has doubled the capacity of its public
transport system. It has not only spruced up its neighbourhoods but
had a go at sprucing up its citizens, imposing sanctions against two
of their favourite pursuits, smoking in enclosed spaces and spitting.

In an effort to reduce air pollution, China has closed down a number
of factories in the vicinity of Beijing and, by cumulative
restriction and decree, has cut the number of cars on its streets by one-third.

The air is likely to be clogged enough for many participants in the
heavy endurance sports to plan on darting into Beijing just before
their race starts. Some marathon runners have withdrawn from competition.

To interrupt the flow of any part of the vast and complex network
that provides food, shelter, power, employment and transport for 1.5
billion people is an expansive and daring demonstration of China's
desire to make a good impression.

The first Olympic Games in Asia, staged by Tokyo in 1964, were an
image-transforming triumph for the host country, Japan. The Japanese
came to the Games as crestfallen losers of a hegemonic war. Many
wished them ill and they had much to prove: that they had freed
themselves of chauvinist and militarist values, could be trusted to
do business as hi-tech sophisticates rather than as mass
manufacturers of shoddy bric-a-brac.

Seiko produced a timing device that called a race by one-thousandth
of a second and Switzerland's monopoly on telling the time was broken
forever. This was the first Olympics at which results were recorded
bycomputer and the first from which opening and closing ceremonies
were broadcast by satellite.

As a result of the Olympics, the world embraced sushi, ninja, Kenzo
Tange's architectural style, judo, Akira Kurosawa and Toshio Mifune,
Honda motorbikes and Toyota and Nissan cars, ikebana, Kirin beer,
yukata and, to some extent, sake and kabuki theatre. We were
impressed and/or intrigued by trains that ran punctually to the
minute at 200km/h, by bathing in mineral spring water hot enough to
boil a chook and by the elegant manners of the Japanese.

The 1964 Olympics, helped Japan merge virtually seamlessly with the
modern world. As a reporter who went to live in Tokyo six months
before the Games, I remember few pleasant events to match the joy
that swept over the Japanese as they realised they had made a smash
hit of their turn as Olympichosts.

China comes in no way crestfallen to its Games. It is inclined to
swagger, which may account for not everybody wishing it well. An
insufferably patronising article in the latest issue of Foreign
Affairs, under the headline "China's Olympic nightmare", amounts to a
wish list of the worst possible outcomes for the 2008 Games,
triggered by China's neglect of the environment, disregard for human
rights in suppressing dissent and its fervid nationalism.

It's the case that China acted bumptiously by sending its own
tough-guy cops to escort the Olympic flame through foreign territory.
But by the time the flame reached Canberra, the Chinese cops, clearly
under instruction, had abandoned the tactics of pushing and shoving
and giving orders they had used against unfriendly demonstrators in
London and Paris, and left crowd control to the locals.

Moreover, the Free Tibet movement to which attention seekers and
human rights jihadis attached themselves as an excuse for harassing
the Olympic torchbearers is not a cause to stir many souls. Harsh as
the Chinese authorities in Tibet may (or may not) be, they are
unlikely to be more repressive than the cabal of clerics and
landowners who ruled the country for centuries.

As for Tibet's leader in exile, the Dalai Lama, he is inextricably
linked in my mind with Henri Philippe d'Orleans, Comte de Paris,
claimant to the French throne, genial septuagenarians both and both
mischief-makers as they encourage followers to dream of kingdoms that
will never come.

When a country takes on the expense and sweat of staging the
Olympics, it professes a willingness to display itself to the world
as it is, bright side uppermost. But this is not an invitation for
outsiders to try to remodel it in their own image. The 35,000
journalists reporting on the Beijing Olympics, with instant global
connection, will deliver a portrait of China's realities beyond
anything we have previously seen, as a smaller contingent of their
predecessors, limited by Stone Age communications, did from Japan 44 years ago.

Olympics coverage may also afford the Chinese, as it did the
Japanese, useful perceptions of how others see them.
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