Thursday, May 1, 2008

Editor's Introduction- May 2008

"China's Olympic Delusion" by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom. Nation. March 19, 2008.

An Annotation

With the Beijing 2008 Summer Games peeking over the horizon, the People’s Republic of China is at center stage—an unfamiliar place for the long-time isolationist and consistently secretive country. With this new attention, however, comes new responsibility. China postures to be the superpower of the future and a trustworthy business partner, but its continued repression of democratic freedoms and suppression of Tibetan self-determination severely impede China’s ability to legitimize itself and garner the necessary credibility emblematic of a global leader. Wassertrom’s article takes a particular angle on this widespread debate by discussing whether or not China will be able to control its public image under the bright lights of the Olympics, given mass communication as accessible as it is and the critics as vociferous as they are.

“…it remains doubtful that the regime will be able to keep tourists or spectators in Beijing from voicing support for the Dalai Lama or making eye-catching pro-Tibet gestures while the games are actually taking place in August.”

While in the lead up to the Games, China attempts to utilize visual imagery to malign Tibetan protestors as violent, or deploy nationalistic bloggers to tote the Party-line online, when international media descends on Beijing, much will be out of the hands of the central administration. Outraged human rights advocates will seize on this opportunity to leverage China’s exposed vulnerability in the eyes of the world. However, to what lengths is the Chinese government willing to go to protect its public persona in preparation for its “coming-out” party? We have already witnessed crackdowns against pro-democratic activism within China and will likely see more. The short-term costs could well be high for what some see as a long-term project of integration into international society.

“…the tragic and farcical developments in recent weeks underscore the inherent conflict between China’s desire to place itself in the global spotlight and its hope that no one will focus on the nation’s flaws.”

Within human rights circles, there is an ongoing debate surrounding China and nations like it: is steady constructive engagement likely to provoke change within a traditional stalwart or is a tougher, abrasive stance more productive in prompting human rights progress? Providing China with the ultimate stage on which either to shine or embarrass itself in the process may be the perfect control group for this experiment to play out. Or, as critics suggest, has the international community honored and appeased China the abuser by allowing it to host an Olympic games? Looking forward, for China to truly emerge as a global leader it must confront international norms, including universal human rights protection. And this summer we will all be witness to this major face-off.

All this and more in this month’s installment of HRHW’s Roundtable.


Seductions of Imperialism: Incapacitating Life, Fetishizing Death and Catastrophizing Ecologies

by Anna M. Agathangelou

"It is also crucial to juxtapose the human rights violations with the demands made for the longest time by U.S.-European-Japanese leaders and managers of capital for China to integrate itself into the capitalist production system.”

“China’s Olympic Delusion” is a great piece which gestures to the ironies and/or contradictions of political systems in bed with imperialist-capitalism as we know it at this time: the tensions between a dominant idea that liberal democracy is the best political system to pay attention to and address human rights, and capitalism with no limits, can go hand-in-hand. This is merely the delusion, and also the fantasy, that keeps “us” (i.e., citizens, intellectuals etc) put, and from thinking critically. This is not merely an irony, but I think this idea and its contingent practices have been for the longest time what has mediated and acted as a major subsidy to imperial-capitalism’s reign. Much of human rights talk now focuses its attention on China with regards to Tibet. This is, I do not doubt, a very important strategy, especially now with the attention (i.e., financial investments, economies of profit) that China is taking with the Olympics. As a strategy, it is useful transnationally as it makes these violations known to many in the world, particularly toward mobilizing resources and voices against the bourgeois regime of China when much is being invested there to allow for the “smooth” performances of the Olympics. Yet, China is not only violating Tibetan rights. Authors like Balbir K. Punj have brought to our attention the fact that China is also meddling in other areas (i.e., the appropriating of a section of Kashmir up to 5,800 square km) “in the Shaksgam valley along the Karakoram range with the connivance of Pakistan.” It is also crucial to juxtapose the human rights violations with the demands made for the longest time by U.S.-European-Japanese leaders and managers of capital for China to integrate itself into the capitalist production system. Indeed, it has done so. Yet, this integration can only be sustained by another major violation: incapacitating and catastrophizing our multiple ecologies, including our own bodies. Indeed, if China moves to capitalist production at the rate done in North America and Europe, we would soon be faced with a global environmental crisis. Yet, these human rights violations are not juxtaposed next to each other and next to this major environmental violation. However, human rights violations, including our move to catastrophizing our multiple ecologies are not merely China’s problem. Human rights violations are the norm and have been so in Somalia, Rwanda, Sierre Leone, East Timor, Aceh, Tibet, Iraq, North Korea. They are the norm regarding the Kurds, Palestinians, Tutsis, and Uygurs. They are the norm when one-quarter of the world's population lives below the international poverty line of $145 per year per capita, one billion lack safe water to drink, 880 million lack access to basic health, and millions of us are engaging daily in the destruction of the environment. These are not merely China’s problems. These are global problems that require innovative strategies against structural/ecological/bodily violations that the erection of imperial-capitalism depends on. The United States, for instance, left many poor, black, and queer bodies in New Orleans who now find themselves in the stream of death. Millions of U.S. children live in poverty, some thirty percent of all Americans have no medical insurance, and five to ten million are homeless. One-quarter of all African American males under the age of twenty-five are in jail, on probation, or on parole. And a U.N. Special Rapporteur describes capital punishment in the United States as arbitrary and racially discriminatory. The highest incarceration rate is found in the most liberal democratic country in the world. This is an irony!

As different states, including China, attempt to muffle the voices and the stench of dead bodies piling up around us, testaments to imperial-capitalist efficacy (See Agathangelou, Bassichis, and Spira 2008), it is crucial for us to re-think strategies and interventions to disrupt these dominant discourses that hide/make invisible, and indeed make possible, human/environmental rights violations in the world. The violated, the dead and the dying, the ecologies speak, perhaps in grammars and methods that those who claim liberal democracy and/or economic viability cannot or do not desire to apprehend. History seems to refuse to rest as it persists to “not let us forget” the daily catastrophes we are faced in the world. And we are left to listen and re-direct our energies to disrupt the many violations, but also to articulate socialist projects beyond unlimited profits and ontological structural adjustments and violences. We are left to become intimate with all the human/ecological rights violations, including those we sanction, so that we might resist the seductive calls to a future unmoored by our history. The many different violations and deaths, including the destruction of our ecologies in our communities cannot any longer be marginalized. We must reckon with them (i.e., the killings of people in Iraq all in the name of freedom; the killings of Rwandans all in the name of ethnicity; the killing of Palestinians all in the name of security, etc.) if we are to wrestle ourselves from the thick fantasies and mystifications of a democracy that collapses violence with liberty, and human/ecological rights with imperial capitalism. Demystifying such moves and problematizing such human/ecological rights violations and their contingent structures is the way to counter the forces of structurally adjusting themselves by drawing “value,” and indeed by attempting to ontologically kill people’s lives, bodies, and ecologies to generate more capital and power. It is only then that the “impossible dreams” of unlimited expansion can be exposed and disrupted.

Anna M. Agathangelou is Associate Professor of political science at York University, Toronto and the director of Global Change Institute, Nicosia, Cyprus. Author of The Global Political Economy of Sex: Desire, Violence, and Insecurity in Mediterranean Nation-States (Palgrave 2004), Agathangelou is currently working on a book-project Terror-Necrotic Ontologies of Capital and Empire: Greek Theory and Possibilities for Substantive Democracy.


Beijing's Olympics: Pride, Appearance and Human Rights

by Thomas Beal

"Some wishful thinkers hold out hope.The more likely scenario is that prideful Chinese leaders will continue to act on their obsession with appearance, despite backlash in the court of public opinion.”

One lazy summer evening in Beijing, about fifteen years ago, my wife and I were strolling down Jianguomenwai, the bustling street adjacent to our flat in the Qijiayuan Diplomatic Compound. The day had been sweltering, and as the sun began to set the sidewalks filled with pedestrians who, like us, had escaped their stuffy apartments to take in a cool, soothing breeze.

Just past the Jianguo Hotel we came upon an odd scene: Several dozen people stood transfixed around two men trying to apprehend a strikingly beautiful young woman. One man held her by her arm in a vice-like grip. The elder of the two, whom I took to be her father, wore a watchful, sorrowing expression as he stroked her shoulders and pleaded, “Return home, return home.” The woman cried and half-struggled to break away.

A few seconds passed before my wife nudged me in the arm. I scanned the street corners for a policeman worrying what exactly I would do if I offered the girl help and she were to answer “yes.” But before I could open my mouth, an old woman clad in blue pajamas emerged from the throng. Wagging a menacing finger at the scufflers, she yelled: “What are you doing? Foreigners are watching!” A few moments of awkwardness ensued before the crowd dispersed and the two men and the young woman walked quickly away together.

I thought this incident was worth remembering as we move into the home stretch of the launch of the 2008 Olympic Games: In a culture obsessed with appearances, China ’s leaders will try to prevent the outside world from seeing anything that reflects badly on either the government or nation. As Jeffrey Wasserstrom suggests, responding with a mailed fist to unrest in places like Tibet and Xinjiang, blocking access to Internet sites, arresting dissidents, and censoring foreign entertainers—all of these and more possibly egregious acts of control to come are necessarily required by Beijing’s Olympic “script.”

China’s leaders view the Olympic Games as a national "coming-out party", an historic opportunity to showcase the country’s economic achievements and offer proof that China is worthy of the world’s respect as a global power. And rightly so. Communist Party policies in place since the early 1980s have helped lift an estimated 400 million people out of poverty. Most of the country’s coastal cities are engines for economic growth and prosperity. In recent years, painfully aware it must narrow the widening income gap between the cities and countryside or reap the whirlwind, China’s government has abolished the age-old agricultural tax, ushered in land-lease reform, and implemented a new national medical insurance scheme intended to make health care more affordable for the rural poor. In 2006, the National People’s Congress made nine-year compulsory education in rural areas free. Such gains—and the political stability they help promote—could be undercut by a global economic slowdown if it dampens China’s economic growth rate below the level needed to create a sufficient number of jobs.

Beijing ’s Olympic script must therefore be followed primarily for the way it bestows symbolic approval of Communist Party rule. Playing the part of Olympic host well bolsters the legitimacy of China’s leaders before their own people. In recent weeks, we have seen what happens when the script is not followed; disruptions such as the one in Tibet are interpreted by many Chinese as an embarrassing sign that their leaders may not be in control. Fierce criticism by the West of Chinese policies and actions add to already high dudgeon. Intense feelings of frustration and injustice— acted out on the streets in front of French-owned supermarkets, for example—make everyone a little nervous, including China’s leadership. Traditionally, the Olympic Games end with a fanfare; the Olympic flame is extinguished, and while the Olympic anthem is played the Olympic flag is lowered, unfurled, and carried out of the arena. But Beijing’s Olympic script ends climactically and symbolically when Party leaders and their families move from Zhongnanhai, the secluded compound sheltering them near the Forbidden City, to a glitzy new complex adjacent to the Olympic Green.

Sticking to the script means China’s crackdown on human rights in the run up to the Olympic Games will likely continue. And during the Games? The script includes building the world’s biggest swimming pool and controlling hundreds of thousands of visitors and thousands of journalists, as well as snaring Falun Gong followers, Tibet independence groups, and other pesky activists. The police state will mobilize several hundred thousand members of the security forces, special SWAT teams, a citizen’s army of more than 600,000 Beijing residents and students (one for every expected foreign visitor and journalist), and a cadre of 100,000 official volunteers, half of whom will also have full-time security duties. Surveillance systems cover phone and Internet and include more than 300,000 cameras on streets, subways, hotels and major venues. Doing whatever it takes requires weathering international outrage, should there be any. In this respect, China also has had plenty of valuable experience. For example, in preparation for their bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games, China’s leaders let nothing stand in their way. Then, as now, they launched a nationwide crackdown on dissidents, accompanied by a systematic “clean up” of Beijing. Hundreds of homeless people, petitioners and migrant workers were forcibly removed from the streets, sentenced to re-education camps and detention centers, and even confined to mental hospitals. Factories were shuttered and electricity cut off to clear the air of smog. The campaign intensified in early 1993 as the International Olympic Committee prepared for an inspection tour of the capital. Preparing for the 2008 Games, Chinese authorities arrested 742 people in 2007 for such offenses as “endangering state security”—twice as many as in 2005 ( The official arrest figures for 2007 were announced by a senior Chinese law enforcement official on March 10, 2008.) .

In recent weeks, China has said it will resume human rights talks with the United States and jumpstart dialogue at higher levels with respresentatives of the Dalai Lama. The Chinese government is also said to be ready to hire an international public relations firm in the wake of the Tibet crisis. Some wishful thinkers hold out hope that these are signs China’s leaders might yet “right the ship in the coming months,” as one wrote, with a startling concession, such as the release of political prisoners, aimed at repairing China’s image before the Beijing Olympics. But this hardly jibes with the conviction and sentencing of civil rights activist Hu Jia in April, and what are likely to be grotesque show trials held throughout May f or the more than 1,200 people arrested in the violence in Lhasa in March.

The more likely scenario is that China’s prideful leaders will continue to act on their obsession with appearance, in mainly harsh but predictable ways, despite backlash in the court of public opinion. They are politicians who must wield unchallenged power or appear weak and incapable. Pride, concern with appearance, fear of the loss of face, and the “delusion” Wasserstrom alludes to—these are also themes central to Lu Xun’s novella “The True Story of Ah Q,” whose main character Ah Q symbolizes flaws of the Chinese national character, such as saving face by finding spurious moral victory in defeat. In one scene, a demoralized Ah Q slaps himself on the face. But because he is the person doing the slapping, he sees himself as the victor:

But presently he changed defeat into victory. Raising his right hand he slapped his own face hard, twice, so that it tingled with pain. After this slapping his heart felt lighter, for it seemed as if the one who had given the slap was himself, the one slapped some other self, and soon it was as if he had beaten someone else—in spite of the fact that his face was still tingling. He lay down satisfied that he had gained the victory.

Soon he was asleep.*

* Lu Xun Selected Works, trans. Yang Xianyi & Gladys Yang (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1985), pp. 111-112.

Thomas Beal is an adjunct instructor at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies. He lived in China for more than 12 years, during which time he was deputy editorial page editor of The Asian Wall Street Journal, staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong and foreign correspondent for United Press International in Beijing. He has also worked at Agence France-Presse and as a freelance reporter for The Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Beal was honored by Amnesty International and the Hong Kong Journalists Association in 2001 with a special merit award for outstanding editorial/op-ed articles about human rights in China. He holds a master's degree in international relations from Cambridge University, England.


Sport and Politics

by Christine Bell

"I reject the view that we should enforce a separation between politics and sport that does not exist. Sport, and particularly the Olympics, is intrinsically linked with notions of nationality and belonging, and laced with an ethic of fair play and even justice."

I found the reflection interesting, but unsurprising. Protestors use the Olympic spotlight (or should we say torch?) to shine on China’s flaws, and China tries to re-direct or extinguish its beams.

Was China delusional to think that it could boost its reputation through hosting the Olympics? Or did it make a calculation that what it had to gain from the Olympics was more than it had to lose? Do most states try to place themselves in the global spotlight yet hope that no one will focus on their flaws? Do most states not try to rig the spotlight in some way, so that flaws remain in the shadows?

To me, and to the British public, the more interesting question has been whether and how sports events should be used with relation to political change. The developing “torch saga” which post-dated and played out many of the article’s points, has seen the merits of the South African sports boycott and the Moscow Olympic boycott, all re-hashed. In Britain at least, even protestors have been torn between how far to try to interfere and even damage the running of the Olympics, and how far effective protest requires cherishing the Olympics as bigger than the country that hosts it. The show must go on precisely because it does harness aspirations of peaceful unity through diversity. The paradox of course is that it is precisely this bigger side of the Olympic dream that makes it a vehicle for effective protest.

Typically the debate moves as two ships passing each other by at night. Sports should be kept completely separate from politics, versus sports cannot be separate and sporting bodies must be wise to, and even use, the cachet of large scale sporting events to promote other social ends, such as respect for human rights. Personally, I often find myself somewhat torn. I reject the view that we should enforce a separation between politics and sport that does not exist. Sport, and particularly the Olympics, is intrinsically linked with notions of nationality and belonging, and laced with an ethic of fair play and even justice. A country seeks to host a large scale international sporting event precisely because it can enhance its economic and political standing.

However, the types of protests and the effectiveness of them never occur evenly across all human rights violators. Once we open the door to tying sport to human rights issues, we enable wrapping sporting events up in broader geopolitical wrangles, a là Moscow. Furthermore, is it just to penalize those countries with poor civil and political rights records, while ignoring the global socio-economic rights deficits for which Western liberal democracies also bear responsibility? Can not the revenue and job-creating Olympics go some way towards addressing this deficit? In a world in which widening inequalities are one of the major human rights issues, this would also be a human rights problem.

As the torch wend its troubled journey, I found myself in sympathy with those protestors attempting to link their protests with the Olympic spirit, and to counsel the right to disrupt whole-scale celebration without seeking to derail the entire Olympic event. I do not get too upset about television presenters and celebrity personalities who voluntarily undertook the torch-carrying task under full police protection, having to endure protests and even a few runs at the torch. The torch trail is the market place of free speech, and I welcome conflicted spaces where the torch procession can be simultaneously celebrated and cherished and vilified. This is local and global democracy in action.

Also, although I am relatively uninformed about the work of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), I found myself wishing that it had been clearer about the human rights conditionality attached to hosting the event, with a clearer mechanism for ensuring that this was implemented. Most of the problems that arose could have been easily anticipated and responded to in some way—a mediation role that should have taken place appeared to have been missing. But it also seems clear to me that the Olympics alone could not reform China and should not bear that responsibility. The role of the Chinese people and other world powers is much more crucial and they hold more responsibility.

But the sport and politics debate plays out a larger debate about cause and effect and what are effective forms of human rights advocacy. This is the debate as to whether economic liberalization will naturally herald and “bear forth” political liberalization, or whether pressure for political liberalization must be demanded as a condition of greater economic participation. Does giving China the Olympics bring it into a set of relationships, including with the global media, in which human rights abuses will inevitably become more difficult? Or is it dangerous to assume that a reduction in human rights abuses will just happen because this risks shoring up China’s sense of impunity, if and when it finds out that it can get away with “business as usual”?

In essence, this is an argument also about carrots and sticks, and its implications go well beyond China. Do people comply with human rights standards by being made fully participating members of communities whose other members value norms and where “norm-promotion” happens in diffuse ways through subtle forms of international “peer pressure”? Or do the carrots need to be backed up by sticks, with international economic and political goodies conditioned on compliance with human rights and social justice? In an important and influential book, Buying Social Justice, Oxford University Press 2008, Christopher McCrudden has reframed this debate. In brief, he argues for human rights and social justice conditionality in the public procurement context. He does not put it exactly this way, but in essence he suggests that a space that is created enables a conversation between local and global actors in which the application of human rights values are negotiated. This is human rights, not as an inflexible advocated position, but as a way of talking to each other and a way of doing business. McCrudden does not address this year’s Olympics, but his ideas suggest a way of integrating globalized economic transactions and progress with ensuring the human rights of individuals and communities that we would do well to study more.

But if I had to nominate an Olympic Song for this year’s opening ceremony, I might wonder about Kaiser Chief’s “I Predict a Riot” with world leaders in the background crooning The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

Christine Bell was born and brought up in Belfast. She is currently Director of the Transitional Justice Institute, and Professor of Public International Law at University of Ulster (based at Magee Campus). She read law at Selwyn College, Cambridge, (1988) and gained an LL.M in Law from Harvard Law School (1990), supported by a Harkness Fellowship. She has authored the book Peace Agreements and Human Rights (Oxford University Press 2000), and a report published by the International Council on Human Rights Policy entitled "Negotiating Justice? Human Rights and Peace Agreements" (2006). She has also taken part in various peace negotiations discussions, giving constitutional law and human rights law advice, and also in training for diplomats, mediators and lawyers.


"Instant Karma": How Globalization Contests China's Abuses

by Alison Brysk

"China's long march to global influence may intensify abuse in the short run-but it has the potential to open new pathways for progress in the long run."

China’s rise from impoverished backwater to prospective superpower has been accompanied by the repression of tens of millions of its own people, at the hands of a nationalist, developmentalist government. Under contemporary conditions of globalization, suppression of civil liberties, domination of ethnic minorities, and unholy alliances with resource-rich dictatorships are no longer plausible requisites of this model—if they ever were. The broadening and deepening of economic globalization towards a more sustainable complex of political influence involves “soft power,” including international reputation and norms. Thus, China’s Olympian reach for true hegemony provides the best chance for human rights advocates to weave a transnational “invisible handcuff” that will restrain the worst excesses of China’s rulers, and build a base for the long-term empowerment of China's civil society.

One marker of China’s shifting political environment is the difference between the response to the 1989 Tiananmen protests and the current unrest in Tibet. In 1989, China turned tanks on thousands of peaceful protestors in the heart of its capital city in full view of the world, cut communication links, and followed with a massive manhunt, detentions, and executions. Twenty years ago, China easily defied brief and tepid international sanctions. Today, China has exercised Chiapas-style preemptive caution in responding to less visible and more violent threats—but one reflecting widespread international support. All the major world leaders debate boycotts of the Olympic opening ceremonies, and ongoing consumer-based economic sanctions are a real possibility. Despite some nationalist backlash, world-wide pressures over Darfur boomerang back to inspire Chinese intellectuals to petition for peace in Tibet. China’s leaders carefully defend their response as necessary for sovereignty, “not a question of human rights.” China has clearly moved from the denial to bargaining stages of Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink’s “spiral model” of human rights reform.

International cultural and diplomatic ties are often seen as marginal to the pursuit of national interest and world power. But because sustainable power depends on recognition and reciprocity, nations seek legitimacy, membership, and influence—just as interest-driven firms seek good public relations, consumer confidence, and branding. From the Nazis’ reach for recognition at the Munich 1936 Olympics to Japan's increase in foreign aid as it sought U.N. Security Council membership, states value international prestige as a long-term investment. But that logic opens them to new forms of leverage, as Argentina discovered when hosting the 1978 World Cup which shined a spotlight on its disappearance of political opponents, bringing increased media coverage, transnational contact with activists, and eventually increased international pressure by the U.S. and OAS human rights machinery. Raising the reputational cost of quashing protesters in Lhasa or selling weapons to Khartoum forces China’s political elite to shift their calculus of political dominance, even before it wins hearts and minds.

China ’s long march to global influence may intensify abuse in the short run—but it has the potential to open new pathways for progress in the long run. Economic globalization creates new incentives for prison labor, sweatshop exploitation, trafficking in persons, and even organs, and pillage of resources from unsavory regimes. But meanwhile, informational and cultural exchange, along with increasing involvement in international institutions, may pull China ineluctably towards greater conformity with global norms of civil liberties and religious freedom. With continued pressure over time, illiberal global powers will be hobbled—if not halted—by their own contradictions. What defenders of human rights can learn from the Dalai Lama is how to speed up the karma a little, by turning around the soft power of globalization—while the whole world is watching.

Alison Brysk is Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of California, Irvine. Winner of the 2007-2008 Distinguished Mid-Career Research Award, she has authored or edited six books on international human rights. Professor Brysk has researched and lectured in a dozen countries, and in 2007 held the Fulbright Distinguished Visiting Chair in Global Governance at Canada's University of Waterloo/Centre for International Governance Innovation. Brysk is active in promoting human rights through campus, professional, international, and advocacy organizations and networks. Please visit her website:


The Olympic Spotlight: The Beijing Games and China as a Future World Leader

by Eric A. Heinze

"By shining the Olympic spotlight on this year's hosts, the world community will be able to judge for itself whether China, as a potential world leader, is going to be worth following."

According to Jeffrey Wasserstrom’s article, if the Chinese think they can censor the Olympics, and the political showcasing that will almost certainly accompany them, they are sorely mistaken. I am persuaded by the thrust of this argument. I just hope that as China vies for global leadership and influence, whatever truths the Olympic spotlight reveals about its potential in this regard are more farcical than tragic.

The Olympics have frequently been accompanied by dramatic events that are indicative of the state of world affairs. Witness Berlin in 1936, Mexico City in 1968, Munich in 1972, and Moscow in 1980. This summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing may likewise reveal some sobering political realities about the world. Namely, is China ready to be a world leader? China’s Olympic theme song, “We Are Ready,” clearly indicates the political message the Chinese want to send. Yet it remains to be seen whether the Beijing Olympics will portray China as the emerging responsible global power that it aspires to be, or reinforce the caricatures of a repressive and undemocratic state that is intolerant of political dissent.

Recent events are indicative of China’s broader political message that it is capable of becoming a responsible world-power. The Chinese government’s “less harsh” response to the recent crisis in Tibet is an obvious one. Likewise, its criticism of Sudan’s policies in Darfur suggest that the Chinese government no longer wants to be known as the country that enabled a genocidal regime because it filled its coffers with money from buying its oil. Such moves are not surprising given what is at stake, even if the stakes are purely symbolic.

But this desire to avoid bad publicity has led Chinese authorities to pursue policies that may have the exact opposite effect. It seems logical that avoiding bad publicity would entail exercising as much control over the flow of information surrounding Olympic coverage as possible. One might therefore expect efforts to prevent reporters from showing China’s pollution problems, human rights abuses, or other problematic social issues. Yet even if China succeeds at controlling media coverage to a certain degree, thus saving face in front of its own people, complete control is impossible. The more China’s authorities try to have complete control over media coverage surrounding the Games and the inevitable demonstrations that will accompany it, the less they will convince the rest of the world that China is “ready.” Such efforts are already having counter-productive outcomes as stories like that of Chinese human rights advocate Hu Jia, who was recently sentenced to three and a half years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power,” begin to make headlines the world over.

In this sense, Wasserstrom is correct that the Chinese are delusional if they think they can fool anyone about their preparedness for global leadership. If the crackdowns on human rights advocates, reporters, and pro-Tibet partisans continue in the run-up to the 2008 Games, then the recent turmoil that accompanied the Olympic torch’s trip through London and Paris will be but a dress rehearsal for the international outrage that could ensue. The news story will then no longer be the Olympic events, but rather the accompanying political showcase—in this case, the censorship of the Olympics and the attempt to hide the uglier side of the communist regime. In this sense, the recent jailing Hu Jia undoubtedly does more harm than good to China’s international standing by distracting international audiences from how we are supposed to be seeing China.

Thus, if world leadership and international respect and attention are what China wants from the Beijing Olympics, then it cannot avoid subjecting itself to international scrutiny. The 2008 Olympic Games are therefore potentially more consequential than any in history. By shining the Olympic spotlight on this year’s hosts, the world community will be able to judge for itself whether China, as a potential world leader, is going to be worth following. In short, if China is not “ready,” then the Beijing Olympics will tell us this…again, hopefully as farce and not as tragedy.

Eric A. Heinze is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of Waging Humanitarian War: The Ethics, Law and Politics of Humanitarian Intervention (forthcoming, SUNY Press) and numerous scholarly articles on various aspects of international human rights and the ethics and law of armed conflict. Dr. Heinze teaches courses on international law and organization, international human rights, and international relations theory.