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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."

Editorial: Olympic ideals come up against hard reality

August 17, 2008

The Age (Australia)
August 15, 2008

It was a miscalculation by the West and the IOC to expect China to
conduct the Games as they would expect other hosts to conduct them.

A WEEK ago, an estimated 4 billion television viewers were enthralled
and captivated by the most spectacular Olympic Games opening ceremony
in the movement's history. China put on a show that overwhelmed the
efforts of past hosts and is unlikely to be rivalled by any future
host nation. It was, as Age writer Greg Baum wrote from Beijing, "the
greatest show on Earth".

A week later, the world is discovering how much of a show. It should
not be surprised. China is what it is. There will be no apologies
from Beijing about that. If there has been a miscalculation in
expectations then it is the fault of the International Olympic
Committee and Western countries. Both believed that in the granting
of the Games to China, in the preparation for them and in the
conducting of them over these two weeks, Beijing would change; a
little light from the West would fall over the faces of the members
of the Politburo and enlightenment would shine through. It was naive
in the extreme.

As the past week has shown, the greater cause to China of these Games
is to project to the world what it perceives its image to be. But as
this week has also shown, there will always be flaws in the glass.
The most glaring came in the shape of a nine-year-old girl, Lin
Miaoke. When 4 billion people saw Miaoke in her red dress singing so
guilelessly, they were entranced. It was a moment of small, intense
delight amid a huge spectacle. But it was an illusion. The voice was
of another girl, Yang Peiyi, aged 7. And the reason? China's national interest.

A Politburo member said: "The child on camera should be flawless in
image, internal feelings and expression. Lin Miaoke is excellent in
those aspects. But in the aspect of voice, Yang Peiyi is flawless."
So China, in effect, combined the two girls to present to the world
the perfect child. It may have been superb television, but it wasn't
the real thing, and trying to find the real thing in China is a
Herculean task. No more so than in trying to report without official
impairment. In China, the censors really do work overtime.

The IOC, and its president Jacques Rogge, need to accept some of the
blame in this for raising hopes that China would free up its internet
restrictions for the Games. It reluctantly did for the foreign press
for some websites, but as The Age reported yesterday its muzzle on
its own media is severe and repressive. China has issued a 21-point
guide to the local media on what to report and what not to report
during the Games. Forbidden subjects include Tibet, Falun Gong, the
three official protest parks, emergencies inside Games venues and
food safety issues such as cancer-causing mineral water. Of the 21
directives, No. 9 suffices to go to the heart of the matter: "In
regard to the three protest parks, no interviews and coverage is allowed."

It is not surprising then that no one has applied to the authorities
(as one must to protest at the parks). To admit that there are
matters on which to protest is to admit to flaws in the society, and
thus in the image.

However, the Chinese censors have no control over the impressions
making their way to the world of an Olympic Games that has had the
life, fun and spontaneity sucked out of it. Dour has been the
adjective of choice to describe the atmosphere. So enervated have
some of the venues become that authorities are using armies of
volunteers to inject some "spontaneity" to the events. John Coates,
the Australian Olympic Committee president, says organisers "haven't
been able to manage the balance between security and creating that
atmosphere" of euphoria and enthusiasm.

Mr Coates is right, yet no one should be surprised at the imbalance
towards security. China, in scrubbing its streets clean of every
possible type of societal infection and blemish, may have caused
outrage and indignation in the West, but as a one-party state, it is
only doing what is in its nature to do. While it has embraced
capitalism, so much so that in a few decades it is expected to
overhaul the United States as the world's major economic power,
changes in its society are slow to moribund. China's President Hu
Jintao has pledged political reforms after the Games, but it is the
nature of power that those wielding it never willingly give it up.

There is the feeling that these Games are being played in a
hermetically sealed dome. Yet no country can have absolute control
over everything. The world goes on. Small wars in Georgia, for
instance, may erupt. The show, also, goes on. Fabulous in
achievement, flawed in execution.

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