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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

China's tour de force

August 25, 2008

Heavy-handed police controls, massive state resources and the
muzzling of protesters helped ensure the Games were a triumph - for
China and its Communist rulers
GEOFFREY YORK
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
August 23, 2008

BEIJING -- When they gaze down at the 7,000 choreographed performers
in the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics tomorrow, China's
Communist rulers will allow themselves a quiet moment of satisfaction.

The bureaucratic men of the Politburo, who will oversee the dazzling
martial-arts displays and opera singers from their air-conditioned
seats at the Bird's Nest stadium, will know that their gamble paid
off. The triumphs of the past two weeks have boosted their domestic
power - and global influence - to greater heights than almost anyone
had expected.

The Beijing Games were primarily designed as a spectacle for
television - the smartest way to communicate the government's
carefully shaped message of peace and power to a massive domestic and
global audience. And it succeeded. These Olympics were the biggest
broadcast event in world history, with a global television audience
of at least 1.2 billion at its peak, according to the latest
estimates this week.

The vast majority of the television coverage was glowingly positive.
Record audiences kept sponsors happy around the world. "Can the
Olympics get any better than this?" asked SportsBusiness Journal, a
trade publication. "Ever again?"

This month, after the demise of a long-ruling party in Paraguay, the
Chinese Communist Party became the most successful political party in
the world today. It has dominated China for every moment of the past
59 years - longer than any other government in the world. (Even the
totalitarian regime in North Korea was forced out of Pyongyang
briefly during the Korean War.) After the overwhelming popularity of
these Olympics among the 1.3 billion Chinese, there will be no
loosening of the party's grip in the foreseeable future. The
gold-medal bonanza and the overpowering mood of patriotism has swept
everything before it.

"The Chinese leadership's popularity has certainly been enhanced,"
says Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at City University of Hong
Kong who specializes in Chinese politics.

"The vast majority of Chinese people accepted that this was a very
important chance to improve national solidarity and to show China's
progress to the world. These goals have been reinforced, and the
Chinese government has been quite successful at it."

President Hu Jintao and his Politburo colleagues knew that any number
of potential disasters - terrorism, uncontrollable protests,
suffocating smog or political boycotts - could have ruined their
message. None of those fears were realized, largely due to relentless
planning, heavy-handed police controls, some well-timed doses of good
fortune (especially the smog-dispersing weather) and the media's
predictable focus on feel-good athletic stories.

These have been the Potemkin Olympics, with China's social and
political problems hidden behind a façade of spectacular
architecture, cheerful volunteers and enthusiastic crowds.

In the end, the government's calculations were correct. There would
be no serious repercussions for its crackdown on dissent. The world's
politicians still beat a path to Beijing's door. None of the brief
protests during the Games had any serious impact on the media. And
thanks to massive state resources and centralized sports planning,
China dominated the gold-medal table, crushing the United States and
providing a daily diet of joyous news for its domestic audience.

One of the engineers of China's triumph was the filmmaker Zhang
Yimou. Once the darling of the Western art-house crowd for his subtle
portraits of Chinese peasants, he is now the master of the
state-approved big-budget epic, often with patriotic pro-China
messages. The famed filmmaker was the man chosen to orchestrate the
glittering performances at the opening and closing ceremonies. He was
candid in his explanation of Beijing's preference for vast spectacle
- even at a human price that most other countries could not afford.

"I have conducted operas in the West, and it was so troublesome," he
said in an interview with Southern Weekend, a Chinese newspaper.
"They only work four-and-a-half days each week. Every day there are
two coffee breaks. There cannot be any discomfort, because of human
rights. ... We do not have that. We can work very hard, we can
withstand lots of bitterness. We can achieve in one week what they
can achieve in one month. Other than North Korea, no other country in
the world can achieve this."

Mr. Zhang acknowledged that the Beijing Olympic ceremonies were
inspired by North Korea's socialist tradition of mass gymnastics,
where thousands of performers are synchronized in every tiny detail.
"Their performances can be so uniform!" he said. "This kind of
uniformity brings beauty. We Chinese can do it too."

This spirit of sacrifice and uniformity, he said, was hitched to one
of China's greatest strengths: its ultramodern technology. And the
rehearsals were supervised almost constantly by the Central Committee
of the Communist Party. Dozens of senior party officials watched the
rehearsals to approve every detail, Mr. Zhang said. "Our program had
the highest level of political review since the founding of the
People's Republic of China. Basically all reviews were from the
Central Committee."

Political control, advanced technology, a spirit of sacrifice and
solidarity, attention to the smallest detail - these were the
ingredients of Beijing's Olympic triumph. They produced an
astonishing 47 gold medals for China (with two days of competition
still remaining), and they produced a show that captivated audiences
around the world. It left little space for anyone who wanted to protest.

One of the very few Olympians who tried to protest against China's
policies in Tibet was a Polish weightlifter named Szymon Kolecki.
After winning a silver medal in his event, he shaved his head as a
gesture of solidarity with Tibet's Buddhist monks. But because of
strictly enforced rules that prohibit athletes from making political
gestures, he was unable to tell anyone publicly about the reasons for
his shaved head.

"I can't directly say why I did it," he told a Polish magazine. "But
I will say that it's symbolic."

More than 40 Olympic athletes downloaded Songs for Tibet - an album
containing songs that protested against China's handling of Tibet.
But none of the Olympians could publicly disclose their names,
because they could be expelled from the Olympics under the rules of
the International Olympic Committee. Shortly after the downloading
incident, China blocked access to Apple's iTunes website, where the
album was available.

While the Olympic athletes had to stay silent on human-rights issues,
a series of pro-Tibet demonstrations were held in Beijing by foreign
activists who called for greater rights for Tibet. These protests,
too, went largely unnoticed in China. The police swiftly broke up the
protests, and the Chinese media did not report them.

With the protesters mostly silenced or censored, the enduring memory
of the Beijing Olympics will be the deafening noise of China's
flag-waving fans, screaming at victories and singing loudly to the
national anthem. It has been an impressive display of patriotism and
pride, and it helps rally the nation around the Communist Party's leadership.

One key question is how the party will choose to use this
nationalism. What will it do with this massive pride in China's gold
medals, this sense of victory for the party itself? Will it become a
more self-confident and secure government, willing to relax and
compromise and reform on some issues? Or will the Olympic victory be
interpreted as proof of the correctness of the Chinese government's
policies, proof that the status quo should be entrenched?

Mr. Cheng said that the Olympics is unlikely to lead to any
significant reforms in China. "We don't see any sign by the Chinese
leadership that it wants to establish genuine political reform. It's
obvious that the party has no intention of accepting any diminution
of its monopoly on power."

On the global stage, the Olympics is a huge breakthrough for China's
prestige and national power. Some commentators are even calling it
"the first moment of the post-American era."

But for many Chinese, the goal of the Olympics is simply to
demonstrate China's rise to superpower status. For them, the gloating
has already begun. "Soon the world will accept that China is a rich
and strong country," said one Chinese blogger. "Foreigners will say,
'China is amazingly rich. It can afford things that even the
developed countries cannot afford.' "

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