Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Two Sides to the Olympic Torch Controversy

An edited version appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, April 20, 2008. A letter in response to the commentary was published on April 22, 2008.

The response to the globe trotting Olympic torch relay neatly summarizes the world’s bifurcated attitude about China. One group sees the relay as an opportunity to register a protest towards China; the other to celebrate the World’s greatest sporting event about to take place in China—for the first time ever.

After San Francisco, the torch proceeded to Argentina, Tanzania and Oman, where the event has been greeted with jubilation and cheer. With the possible exception of Australia and Japan, the parade is expected to continue to be the focus of local pride and celebration as the torch winds its way through Asia until it reaches in Beijing in time for the opening of the Games.

The western media is not going to follow the torch relay in the third world with the same vigor as it had in London, Paris and San Francisco. In the absence of a willing media, protesters would not have the platform to seize the limelight via public disturbances and thus will stay home.

Furthermore, much of the third world have tasted first hand the harshness of past British imperialism and the present threat of American “shock and awe” in contrast with China’s recent surprisingly adroit exercise of soft power. Their sympathies are not with the protesters.

They see the Chinese come to their country to build roads, schools and hospitals. China partners with the local governments and brings in investments and technology to extract natural resources that would finance a better future for the local population.

Western pundits call China’s presence in Africa and Latin America a form of economic colonialism. The “victims” of such colonialism disagree. Unlike the imperialistic exploitation of yore, they see China as a willing partner to help them develop their own economy without political preconditions as to how they should govern.

China has also invested in the infrastructure of Tibet to improve the lives of the Tibetan people. Today, the Tibetan life expectancy has doubled and no longer scrapes by as serfs held in bondage. This is considered “cultural genocide” by the Dalai Lama and the media condemns China for it.

That western media sees China through blinders is particularly evident when the riot first broke out in Lhasa and the media immediately upgraded the thugs into freedom fighters. The German press was particularly creative--though Washington Post, CNN and other American media were not without guilt—using photos of Nepalese police beating civilians in Katmandu as stand-in for Chinese soldiers in Lhasa.

These distortions, however, have aroused the normally placid communities of ethnic Chinese around the world. Wherever they are, they are turning out in large numbers to show their pride and support for the relay and for China hosting its first Olympics. However they might feel about the Beijing government, they resent the outside attempts to turn Olympics into a China bashing circus.

Through more than a decade of mutually beneficial partnership with the West, China has become the most important trading partner to the U.S., Western Europe and Japan. Despite such important economic linkage, the West can’t get away from the notion that only they know what constitutes human rights.

Not everybody in the world believes that the West has a monopoly on human rights. Judging from the vigorous objection of China’s youth to the Western demonizing of China, least of all the Chinese.

Perhaps we can hope that as the novelty of a global torch relay wears off and the real Games begin, we can return to the original spirit of Olympics. That would be sportsmanship, competition and good will to all.

1 comment:

Anthony said...

Mr. Koo,

I think you hit the nail on the head.

As an ABC and son of a Father who left due to government persecution and mistreatment of our family during the cultural revolution, I've always grown up to be weary of the PRC government.

As a Chinese-American, I find that many of us are conflicted. An admiration of our Chinese heritage but a hesitation to rush to the defense of the actions of the communist government.

I believe my sentiment would be that of the same as you described.

Good Will to ALL.