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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."

Olympics put China under scrutiny

August 21, 2008

By Hari Sud
UPI Asia
August 19, 2008

Toronto, ON, Canada, -- The United States regards China as its 21st
century adversary. Therefore, while China views its hosting of the
Olympics as a great show of shows, for the United States and the West
it is a great opportunity to examine China as a nation and verify its claims.

For months, U.S. and Western media were full of stories of smog in
Beijing. The Chinese did their best to cut down on this inconvenience
but did not succeed. Smog persisted until the opening day of the
Olympic Games. To highlight the issue, four American athletes put on
face masks upon landing in Beijing. This act was in fact a political
statement, and it received full media coverage in the West.

Pre-Olympic reporting from China exclusively concentrated on smog,
civil protests and security measures. Few, if any, Western media
examined Beijing's US$40 billion-plus spanking new facelift. All they
wished to report was anything that could go wrong. Truthfully,
nothing went wrong.

For the Chinese, years of planning and flawless execution resulted in
the proud moment of the Games' opening ceremony. The West spent
months of planning to report on everything unpleasant. It was true
that the Chinese were masking aspects of everyday life, and Western
media was hell-bent on uncovering them. While watching the opening
ceremony, everybody agreed that the $40 billion spent was well worth
it; it was only later that a few jokes began to emerge.

The voice-faking during the opening ceremony, the digitally enhanced
fireworks for the TV telecast, and the unpaid volunteers occupying
the stadium's empty seats all tarnished the image of that proud
moment. Now people are beginning to make fun of the architecture of
the Olympic stadium. Although the inside is great, it is the outside
that they are talking about; it looks like a tangled web of steel and
concrete, which locals call the "Bird's Nest." For $40 billion, they
could have gotten something better.

The Chinese wish to project themselves as an advanced country capable
of beating everyone in the world. They imagine themselves as the
Middle Kingdom -- in between heaven and earth, with no equal. Thus,
they are forced to hide a lot.

China is still a developing economy, with 1.3 billion people,
producing US$2.2 trillion in goods and services – more than half of
which are exported. That does not leave much to be proud of. The only
thing they can be proud of is their internal organization, which
worked like clockwork during the Games.

All the prosperity that China likes to talk about benefits less than
340 million people located on the eastern seaboard, while the
country's rural dwellers live on incomes of US$2 a day. The World
Bank verified this fact last year when it corrected its earlier
analysis and stated that China has about 300 million people living in poverty.

Back to the subject of smog: why worry about it? It is a curse of
modernization, which the West is very familiar with. Before
relocating its smokestack industries to China, the West had all this
smog in its own cities. Los Angeles had smog when it hosted the
Olympic Games in 1984. The presence of smog is less important; it was
the Chinese efforts to eliminate the smog that drew attention. The
weather gods were also not favoring the Chinese until the fourth day
when it rained, clearing the skies.

What will be the lasting impression outsiders retain about China when
they return home from the Olympics? They will carry great memories of
the opening day and feel silly about the few faked aspects. Some
visitors will take detours to tourist hot spots and will be carefully
managed by Chinese interpreters.

But the Western media is another story. Their masters back home have
sent them to uncover China. They are supposed to dig deeper and find
the truth about a few things. Every nation -- developed or developing
-- has poverty. Masking it draws attention, while openly admitting a
few facts up front lessens the impact. The Chinese are not very good
at admitting the few facts, which is why Western scrutiny of China is
all the more thorough.

China is now offering limited tours of Tibet or the province of
Xinjiang, two hot spots within China. Only trusted reporters will get
passes to visit these regions. High on other tourists' lists of
places to visit is the Three Gorges Dam. Like the Olympics, it is a
showcase achievement for the Chinese – but all queries about the
safety of this dam will surely be rebuffed.

True to their nature, Western tourists will enjoy everything. They
will return home and tell stories of the great Games they saw. They
will also relate a few not-so-pleasant stories. If they visited the
countryside, they will talk about polluted rivers or smoke belching
from factories, sparsely cultivated land or dirt-poor people. But
this is normal. When American tourists visit the Caribbean or Latin
America, for example, they come back with similar stories.

Hence, what the Chinese achieved with their US$40 billion-plus
expenditure on the Games is almost certainly not enough. Most other
nations who hold the Olympic Games spend a lot less. The Atlanta
Olympics in 1996 cost under $3 billion, a similar amount was spent in
Sydney in 2000, and the Athens Olympics cost the host $12 billion in
2004. The latter amount was high because not only did the Olympic
venues have to be built anew, but the city's entire infrastructure
was modernized to make the Games workable.

When all the costs are tallied and the final chapter of the 2008
Olympics is written, the costs will probably be much higher than $40
billion, which the Chinese admit. For a developing country like
China, this is an unnecessary expenditure. The Chinese may pretend
they can afford it, but it could not be true.

China wanted to create a spectacle that would allow them to emerge on
the world stage in style. That part they achieved. Whether the entire
city of Beijing, together with all the tourist hot spots, needed a
facelift for the event is another question. Since the Chinese leaders
are answerable to no one, this extravagance will never be questioned.

For another 30 years, China will still be a developing country. Even
after that, its economy will be hostage to the nations that import
its exported goods. There is nothing the Chinese make that cannot be
made elsewhere at about the same cost. Therefore, the Chinese will
have to learn that these importing nations will either continue to
dictate the terms of their relationship or will threaten to open
factories elsewhere. In addition, they will hold the import earnings
hostage to their investments.

To avoid these problems, it would be wiser for the Chinese to start
importing more from the United States, Canada and Europe. If that
happens, and trade reaches a balance, then the importing nations
would be hard-pressed to impose their terms on China.

In the end, China has achieved a spectacular entry on the world stage
with the Olympics, but it has come at a high price and may not be
worth it. Other developing nations who wish to hold this type of
spectacle, take note. This level of pageantry is pricey.

(Hari Sud is a retired vice president of C-I-L Inc., a former
investment strategies analyst and international relations manager. A
graduate of Punjab University and the University of Missouri, he has
lived in Canada for the past 34 years. ©Copyright Hari Sud.)

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