Olympic politics

by Henry on April 8, 2008

Dan Drezner and Steve Clemons argue it out over whether or not the US should boycott the Beijing Olympics (Steve says no, Dan says that it would be no harm if the West uses the threat of non-attendance to squeeze some concessions from the Chinese). For me, the interesting question is why the Olympics are so politically important, and how their importance seems to be changing. International relations scholars don’t have much to say about the politics of the modern Olympics (there’s a book by Christopher Hill, but that’s about it), but it’s surely an important international institution; as we can see from recent events, states pay a lot of attention to it. This was true of the original Olympic festival in Greece too; Martin Wight identifies the festival as one of the key institutions binding together the Greek city-state system (although the original Olympics had a military truce attached to it, so it was obviously more important in the ways that IR scholars usually measure importance).

The current debacle though seems to mark an important change in the politics of the Olympics. As best I understand it (I am open to corrections if wrong), in the past, Olympics politics have involved inter-state rivalry, and have been driven by decisions on the part of traditional political elites. The US boycott of the Soviet games in protest against the invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 resulted from a decision by Jimmy Carter, and the tit-for-tat boycott by the Soviets and their allies of the LA games in 1984 resulted from a top level decision too. The dynamic driving the Beijing Olympics seems to me to be rather different; what we are seeing is that the politics of boycott is being driven by mass-publics, and most recently by protestors, rather than by political leaders. In the absence of the public unrest that has culminated in the recent protests in Paris, I doubt very much that Western political leaders would be muttering about not showing at the opening ceremonies – the geopolitical stakes of market access etc are likely more important to them than the fate of Tibetans. But given the widespread public reaction in the West, even leaders like Gordon Brown, who obviously want very much to attend, are having to insulate themselves from public pressures by taking other actions liable to annoy China (such as meeting with the Dalai Lama). In short, I think we are seeing how public opinion and organized cross-national opposition can create significant constraints on the ability of leaders to respond to what they see as the geostrategic necessity of keeping China happy. This is, as best as I am aware, a new phase in the development of the Olympics.

{ 67 comments }

1

P O'Neill 04.08.08 at 4:25 pm

Which is why the Chinese are wasting their time with their current strategy of condemning the protests using their unreconstructed propaganda e.g. yesterday’s description of the London protestors as “separatists” — how long before “running dogs” makes an appearance?

The other thing the Olympics are surely vulnerable to is a commercial boycott i.e. a groundswell of transnational opinion not to watch it.

2

Adam 04.08.08 at 4:30 pm

An even more effective form of commercial boycott would target the (many, many) commercial sponsors. The very same market logic that make political elites deaf to protest make commercial sponsors sensitive to it.

Samsung are already under a bit of pressure just for sponsoring the torch relay.

3

LC 04.08.08 at 5:00 pm

I agree w the post but wd add that the Olympics are still about inter-state rivalry & prestige to some extent: just ask the Cuban govt. The official Chinese slogans, “separatists,” “splittists,” “Dalai Lama clique,” etc do sound old-fashioned, but what else can the Chinese govt do — short of drastically changing its policies on Tibet or human rts, which is not going to happen soon.

4

Clare Hitchens 04.08.08 at 5:04 pm

Readers may be interested in a book we published, a collection called Onward to the Olympics, a look at the Olympics in both ancient and modern times. There are a couple of chapters that deal with the politics. TOC here: http://www.wlupress.wlu.ca/press/Catalog/Tocs/schaus.shtml

Clare Hitchens, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Waterloo, ON, Canada

5

Jim Harrison 04.08.08 at 5:19 pm

In the U.S., the right of people to peaceably assemble and protest has been significantly eroded over the last several years by the practice of keeping protesters far away from the objects of their protest and, of course, from public view. Both Republican and Democratic officials have promoted this process and so have the courts, which increasingly see their role as finessing the Bill of Rights in the interest of social control and economic efficiency. I’m not personally very invested in protesting the behavior of the Chinese government; but if the dispute over the Olympics leads to a reassertion of basic civil rights, let’s get ready to rumble.

6

Russell Arben Fox 04.08.08 at 5:26 pm

Interesting putting this up, Henry; we were just discussing it this morning in my Human Rights and International Law class. To borrow some categories from Michael Ignatieff, one might argue that the implicit human rights assumptions built into the Olympic ideal (peace, sportsmanship, etc.) have been, up until now, purely juridicial concepts: principles codefied as binding principles that could only and would only be acted upon by players at the highest level, using them for advantage in political contests. We’re now perhaps seeing the Olympics transform into an advocacy concept: an occasion for activists and protesters to organize and focus their complaints, inspired by the original ideal, against specific violations of it.

7

MSS 04.08.08 at 5:37 pm

IOC bureaucrats are worthy of great derision every time they say there should be no “politics” in the Olympics and then, in more or less the same breath, talk about the Olympics as a “movement.”

8

Steve LaBonne 04.08.08 at 7:32 pm

There’s an easy solution if anybody was really serious about getting politics out of the Olympics: permanent location (Greece would be fitting), no flags, no anthems. Of course that would also take a lot of the profit out of it (not least, the bribes collected by IOC site selection committee members!), so don’t hold your breath.

9

mikesdak 04.08.08 at 7:34 pm

I see this as an opportunity for a western leader with the guts to use it; to inform the Chinese that,unlike them, you are accountable to your citizens for your actions. Unlike them, you must not only tolerate but seriously consider what is being said by the protesters, which is that the Chinese government is a barbaric totalitarian state. That if the Chinese can offer any rebuttal beyond “No we’re not, and it’s none of your business. How dare you!” you would be happy to hear it.
Unfortunately, I don’t see than happening. The Chinese have money, and it’s money that matters.

10

amrood 04.08.08 at 7:35 pm

All the media hype and double standards covering the protests [in and outside of China] are largely due to China’s position in the world. To the US, China is perceived as an official enemy/rival. We do not see such long-winded coverage of events in Jenin, Fallujah, at checkpoints, or protests opposing western imperialism. It’s funny how western journalists with hidden cameras, endangering themselves are encapsulated in hotel rooms, all in the name of objective press. Apparently, the rules don’t apply to our victims. I am not saying it is wrong but surely the double standards are quite evident.

Had the Olympics been held in the US, would this question even come up or be entertained with such vigor considering the state is involved in an illegal war, holding prisoners without evidence -no different than the enemies we criticize?

People have the right to protest but we also have the right to self reflect. We can engage in sports and protest – giving more publicity to the issues. But to boycott is a mark of hypocrisy. There is hardly any state that has not engaged in violation of human rights.

11

novakant 04.08.08 at 8:03 pm

to boycott is a mark of hypocrisy. There is hardly any state that has not engaged in violation of human rights.

Alright, let’s give the 2016 Olympics to North Korea then.

12

engels 04.08.08 at 8:10 pm

The picture of American and European politics contained in this post–whereby moves to accomodate China are down to the machinations of self-serving elites whereas anti-Chinese currents flow spontaneuously from the moral conscience of the masses–seems very naive to me.

Clearly, elites especially have an interest in demonising China in the public eye, to use it as a scapegoat to distract from their own crimes and failings and with an eye to future strategic confrontations, even as they continue–hypocritically–to do business with it and so it seems far more likely that much (if not most) of the anti-Chinese animus we are seeing comes from ‘above’ rather than ‘below’.

Indeed, posts and comments on liberal blogs like this one might be one of the many mechanisms by which elite sanctioned views, such as those of establishment ‘public intellectuals’ like Michael Ignatieff, on who is to be the object of moral opprobium du jour perculate downwards…

13

anon 04.08.08 at 8:17 pm

…this is why they should have given Toronto the bid instead of Beijing. The air pollution alone is enough reason to boycott.

14

drip 04.08.08 at 8:18 pm

the politics of boycott is being driven by mass-publics, and most recently by protesters, rather than by political leaders. This seems to be correct and it seems to be possible because of the web and cellphone technology. The clampdown on that technology in China is reason enough for a boycott. The more moderate but equally dangerous limitations on free speech in the west leave many open to the charge of hypocrisy, but the protesters are not the hypocrites.

15

Ben Alpers 04.08.08 at 9:23 pm

If memory serves, the movement to boycott the 1936 Olympics in Berlin was driven by the grassroots and successfully resisted by political elites.

16

LC 04.08.08 at 9:25 pm

#12: “seems far more likely that much (if not most) of the anti-Chinese animus we are seeing comes from ‘above’ rather than ‘below.'”
Perhaps engels is in possession of info I lack, but on the basis of what I know the protests would appear to be largely bottom-up and not welcomed by western leaders. Henry’s post seems not naive but quite accurate in this respect.

17

Mikhail 04.08.08 at 10:41 pm

I think a lot of people these days are completely missing the whole point of what Olympic games are and what they represent. Even the Nazi Germany’s games were not boycotted. So, we’ll now boycott China? That’s a bit stretching it. The Olympics is supposed to be about international unity, it’s an event that allows different peoples and countries to learn about each other, potentially create better understanding and transparency in the world. Why we should forgo that in the interests of the protesters most of whom don’t really know the subject of their protests is not clear to me…

18

John Quiggin 04.08.08 at 10:56 pm

I disagree with Mikhail, but he raises an important point. If you think the Olympic Games make a valuable contribution to international unity, then you should oppose boycotts and protests in all cases.

If you see them as an opportunity for nationalist grandstanding, particularly but not only on the part of the host country, then boycotts and protests make perfect sense.

19

Ben Alpers 04.08.08 at 11:07 pm

#17: Without endorsing the boycott movement at all (I have very mixed feelings about Olympic boycotts) it’s worth pointing out that the person most responsible for U.S. attendance at the Berlin Olympics was USOC President Avery Brundage, who successfully fought against a well-organized boycott movement. Brundage is one of the most distasteful people in the history of international sports. He was, among other things, an antisemite and Nazi sympathizer, an opponent of women’s participation in the Olympics, and an opponent of the restoration of of Jim Thorpe’s medals. The Olympic “Movement” rewards such people, and Brundage rose to become president of the International Olympic Committee in the 1950s, in which capacity he made his most famous decision: continuing the 1972 Munich games after terrorists killed eleven Israeli athletes.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying that, given who made the decision to attend, the fact that the Berlin Olympic Games weren’t boycotted is not really much of an argument for anything.

20

engels 04.08.08 at 11:13 pm

Lc – I was making a general claim about the sources of anti-Chinese sentiment in the US, not disputing the factual point that these protests weren’t initiated by presidential decree.

21

Mikhail 04.08.08 at 11:14 pm

#19 I was making a point in general, not specific to the US. The fact that most other countries also did not boycott the Munich games counts for something, regardless of the position of the US.

As for grandstanding, I agree – that’s what the media and huge profits have made the Olympics today. But I think there is still a more important “meta”point to it, and adding to its erosion is shameful in my book.

22

lazynative 04.08.08 at 11:17 pm

“In the absence of the public unrest that has culminated in the recent protests in Paris, I doubt very much that Western political leaders would be muttering about not showing at the opening ceremonies – the geopolitical stakes of market access etc are likely more important to them than the fate of Tibetans. But given the widespread public reaction in the West, even leaders like Gordon Brown, who obviously want very much to attend, are having to insulate themselves from public pressures by taking other actions liable to annoy China (such as meeting with the Dalai Lama).”

Er, but aren’t these just symbolic concession representing at the most some lost PR opportunities. Doubt very much that any real economic advantages will be foregone or that any concrete steps towards improving the Tibetan problem undertaken as a result of these protests on Western leaders.

More distasteful, imo, is the discourse coming from some Olympians about how the event is somehow meant to be above and separate from politics and how disruptions of the Olympic flame’s procession is in someway spoiling a spectacle to which everyone is entitled; arguments leading to the fact that in this situation it is better to avoid such emabarassing occasions for such protests to manifest themselves. This is really disappointing; whatever one thinks of the politics involved or of the protests and Tibet; it is absurd to think that the Olympics can be separated from politics or that the event is not permeated with it. Also one has to acknowledge that if one subscribes to Olympian ideals, then these are not manifested by the actions or the ideology of the Chinese state. I don’t think you have to agree with the protests or the politics espoused to concur with these points.

23

novakant 04.08.08 at 11:23 pm

Apart from China’s shameful behaviour towards the Tibetans, there’s also the small matter that there have been and there will continue to be severe human rights abuses committed by the Chinese authorities directly related to preparing and holding the Olympic games. These facts have all been very well documented by organizations such as Human Rights Watch.

24

Slocum 04.09.08 at 12:01 am

So, we’ll now boycott China? That’s a bit stretching it.

No, we won’t boycott. But the effect that China was hoping for — the pageantry, the usual breathless, fawning stories about the beautiful facilities that have been created (and in such a miraculously short time!) the history and majesty of China — these seem unlikely to be part of the broadcasts now.

The story about the opening ceremonies will be the controversy and the leaders who aren’t there (or who have, controversially, chose to attend while others stayed away). And then after, the coverage will focus on the sports, without the background and ‘human interest’ stories that enhance the prestige and reputation of the host country.

I suspect this is going to be a really big deal for the Chinese, not something they’ll easily shrug off. They’ve been expecting worldwide esteem and respect and will get the opposite. I hope it doesn’t provoke them into doing something really stupid.

25

Jack Chen 04.09.08 at 12:38 am

Please read this carefully. I implore all the good-hearted folks to understand the complexities of the situation.

The problem with China is not about ethnic rivalries… The problem is that all races have been oppressed equally. But those in the West who assign their own racial frameworks only serve to alienate and subvert the 1.2 billion Han Chinese needed to bring more rights to everyone in “China”.

For every Tibetan temple destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, another 100 Confucius/Daoist/Buddhist temple were destroyed. For every TIbetan jailed for “subversion”, there have been 1000 Han Chinese for the same activities. For every Tibetan persecuted for religion, another 10,000 Han Chinese suffer the same fate.

But when you shout Free Tibet and “Down with China”, you are conveying an Anti-China sentiment that Chinese people recoil and react negatively, so deep is the sensitivities to the idea that “Foreigners Know Best”. This is not just Communist propaganda. It is the same overwhelming sentiment that led the the rise of the KMT to overthrow the Qing Dynasty, that led Chinese students to take to the streets on May 4, 1919.

Too many kind-hearted folks in the West believe that things are black and white. I’d caution everyone to make such simplistic solutions, much the same way we believed Iraq was a cakewalk, and that the people would naturally unite once Saddam fell.

What the Free-Tibet crowd don’t realize is that their actions have given the communist party popular legitimacy in China to reduce all the hard-won political/civil gains that activists have given their lives too.

And please don’t be patronizing. The anti-foreign outrage in China is not an echo of brainwashed masses. They understand that their government is messed up. They understand that political freedoms should happen. The Chinese all want their one-party corruption to end…

… but like all peoples around the world, they don’t want OTHERS lecturing them that they’re 1) brainwashed; and 2) not politically correct.

Support Tibet, but how much do you care to know about Chen Guangcheng? Hu Jia? Wu Lihong? Ma Yenlin? The day Tibetans are given true freedoms is the day ALL people in China share the same freedoms.

Shouting “Free Tibet” may make you feel better, but hurt even more 1.3 billion Chinese folks in the long run.

After Iraq, we Americans should know better.

26

sara 04.09.08 at 1:09 am

The Olympics now have a new athletic category: Protest.

I don’t want to be cynical, or minimize how unhappy the Tibetans are with Chinese rule, but the spectacle of it all has taken over.

27

LC 04.09.08 at 1:36 am

#24: yes, it will be interesting to see what the coverage is like, but i suspect that come August the network(s) will in fact do some ‘background’ and ‘human interest’ stories. they will have an interest in not unduly annoying the Chinese govt, and inevitably some slow air time in their schedules that will have to be filled.

28

George A 04.09.08 at 4:26 am

I can’t help but think you’re wrong when you suggest this is the first time a protest has transcended state conflicts. The Olympics where famously protested during the Civil Rights movement.

29

A. Y. Mous 04.09.08 at 7:09 am

“…the politics of boycott is being driven by mass-publics, and most recently by protesters, rather than by political leaders…”

That’s granting too much to the general populace. Over the past decade a sumptuous amount has been pumped into various “protest” pockets so that there is a comfort factor when asked to stop partcipating in day-to-day society and spend time and effort “shaping” society. Now, this pumping is funded and monitored by quite a few of the elect elite.

This is not a conspiracy theory. Yes. Anecdotes do not make data. But, let’s just say I’ve been exposed to these dealings and leave it at that.

30

Mikhail 04.09.08 at 7:12 am

#24 I hope it doesn’t provoke them into doing something really stupid.

And why not? Why should they take it lying down? What I never understood about the western philosophy is why nobody has the right to say or do anything that the west doesn’t agree with. The Chinese are free to do whatever they like, including starting wars over insults, if they choose so (just as the US started a war over a big lie which was theirs :))…

But I don’t think it’ll come to that. I’m sure they are smart enough to have tied broadcasting contracts to the presense of some specific coverage, including running programs created by themselves. :)

31

Ed 04.09.08 at 8:46 am

Wasn’t the modern Olympics always the preserve of far right aristocrats and fascist sympathizers? The 1936, 1940, and 1944 games were scheduled for Berlin, Rome, and Tokyo. The heavy nationalism always associated with the games, and the fact that they keep on winding up in the capitols of dictatorships, might be features, not bugs.

Even the events themselves seem to be heavy on the sorts of events that you might find in elite colleges and prep schools, but which are not played or followed in working class areas, though I might be reading too much into this.

Someone always suggests that the games should be permanently in Greece, and feature no national athems, but I think this misunderstands what the modern Olympic “movement” is about. I’d like to see the games in Dubai, which I think would be more in keeping with the peculiar charm of the events.

32

Jack 04.09.08 at 8:46 am

@#10

But the war IS scrutinized both in and out of the US. For the last 5 years, hundreds of thousands if not millions have criticized every aspect of the Iraq War from it’s legal, moral, political, economic, and military standpoints.

And let’s not forget the US is protested nearly EVERYWHERE and over EVERYTHING. Anytime at the G8, Davos, or at a WTO meeting there are thousands of protesters. It’s such an occurrence of regularity that the organizers have learned to keep protesters far away, thus the media sees it as a non-event.

And let’s also face it. Tibet has not really been in the news for years. This girds Tibetan activists to make the most of this rare opportunity, and also gives the media something different to report on. Both incentives work to intensify and lengthen the issue.

33

ajay 04.09.08 at 9:15 am

Wasn’t the modern Olympics always the preserve of far right aristocrats and fascist sympathizers? The 1936, 1940, and 1944 games were scheduled for Berlin, Rome, and Tokyo.

Not true. The 1940 games were originally awarded to Tokyo, but withdrawn after Japan invaded China in 1937 and given to Helsinki. The 1944 games were awarded to London. Neither the 1940 nor the 1944 games took place, of course; the 1948 games went to London and the 1952 games to Helsinki.

The heavy nationalism always associated with the games, and the fact that they keep on winding up in the capitols of dictatorships, might be features, not bugs.

Wrong again! On a quick count, only two Olympic Games have taken place in dictatorships: Berlin 1936 and Moscow 1980. (I suppose one could argue about Mexico City 1968.)

Even the events themselves seem to be heavy on the sorts of events that you might find in elite colleges and prep schools, but which are not played or followed in working class areas, though I might be reading too much into this.

OK, there’s a lot of sports in the Olympics that are traditionally elite – riding, sailing, etc. But there’s a lot that aren’t – track, swimming, basketball…

I’d like to see the games in Dubai, which I think would be more in keeping with the peculiar charm of the events.

Er… Dubai’s kind of a dictatorship too, you know.

34

Nick 04.09.08 at 10:50 am

#s 29 & 30 – re ‘elite’ sports, I think you need to remember that the cult of amateurism originally enshrined by de Coubertin (& notably promoted by Brundage etc al) was precisely about the maintenance of class divisions via the promotion of games that were the preserve of gentlemen (&, later on, ladies) – anybody who did anything so vulgar as accept money for competing (notably Thorp) was a professional (& hence not a gentleman) and to be excluded.
The fact that societies such as the US & Britain currently happen to regard sports such as track & field as one of the few ways in which ethnic minorities and members of other underclasses can achieve widespread social recognition and approval is a local phenomenon that one really hopes we will move on from . . .

35

drip 04.09.08 at 11:00 am

I wish I could take credit for this, but it belongs to Frank Deford: “The Olympics is NASCAR with accents.”

36

Nick 04.09.08 at 11:02 am

And as for the idea of a Dubai Olympiad, let’s not even start to contemplate the business of women’s participation in sport (or pretty much any other public activity) in parts of the Middle East. Though I personally look forward to banners being unfurled on the Golden Gate by troups of abseiling lesbians . . .

37

ajay 04.09.08 at 11:27 am

31: absolutely right about the cult of amateurism… not really the case now, though, is it?

And either the Olympics excludes the poor because it’s too heavy on elite sports; or Olympic sport is one of the only chances the poor have to achieve status and social recognition; but not both, not at the same time, surely. Incidentally, I think that football, not athletics, is the real working-class route to status and recognition – you have to be very good at track events to become a household name, and there are many fewer well-known runners than footballers in Britain (and I would imagine in the US as well).

A Dubai Olympiad would certainly be interesting from a purely logistic point of view. Given the temperature in the Gulf in high summer, they’d need to build an indoor air-conditioned marathon track. It’d be a sports version of the LHC.

38

mparker 04.09.08 at 11:44 am

How about NO SPORTS AT ALL, until ALL US Military personnel are out of Iraq?

No baseball, basketball, football, hockey….
No Olympics either. Sounds crazy right? Tell it to the guys on their third tour, in 140 degree heat, wondering if the ground beneath them might just explode.

Iraq is a gigantic war crime as disgraceful and disastrous as our Country has ever seen in History. The US has been ruined economically strategically and morally and people I speak with know more about their fantasy teams then the Constitution or what’s going on in Iraq.

Should we just keep playing GAMES?
Wheeeeeeee.

39

Demin 04.09.08 at 12:36 pm

I a a Chinese student studying western politics. Here is my opinion on this issue:
I think there is absolutely no public event today, especially such big one as the Olympic Game, that could be absolutely unpolitical. To deny this is to see human beings as bizzare creature that could suddenly change into another nature, say, purely sport-like. The only question is how to play politics in events like this. I think the IOC’s stance of seperation between olympic and sport could be understood as playing this game politically in a positive way that both respect the sport rules and human rights protection. I don’t think a boycott of the game would result in a better human rights condition in China whatsoever. In contrast, it would inevitably ignite a nationalism in China and prompt Chinese government into taking a tighter position, which would probably cancel the present fairly nice liberal space that has been built since China’s open policy in 1980s. So, in my opinion, this is absolutely the bad politics that could be played with the Game. Some people bring up the example of boycott of Moscow game. Please, I beg you think about the background of that game. It is during the Cold War. Unless you think the Cold War is good politics that could be played by the international community, then please rethink the idea of boycott of such an international game at present time. I am not saying only the Beinjing game, but other events as well, may another ‘politically dirty’ country ‘snatch’ a chance to open to the world either by accident or at the mercy of the western powers. Maybe the only way to play the game politically cleanly is to split it into two games: one to be played only within a bunch of self-righteous democratic countries, another within a gang of evil states. And that’s again a kind of way politics is played, though badly.

40

engels 04.09.08 at 1:28 pm

And either the Olympics excludes the poor because it’s too heavy on elite sports; or Olympic sport is one of the only chances the poor have to achieve status and social recognition; but not both, not at the same time, surely.

Few As are in B
Getting into B is one of the only ways As can achieve C…

Nope.

41

richard 04.09.08 at 1:39 pm

I think all of the objections raised above against a Dubai Olympics are excellent reasons for doing it, while the games have already helped focus attention on China (although less in the US than elsewhere, and we can expect the coverage throughout the games to be more sanitized in the US than elsewhere).

Why not a Riyadh Olympics?

42

engels 04.09.08 at 2:01 pm

I think Jack Chen (#25) and Demin (#39) make some very interesting points.

43

Peter 04.09.08 at 2:35 pm

I believe that the rush to condemn China for just about everything is due to the US’ attempt to paint China as the new and upcoming threat to the world. Our military wants to buy shiny new weapons in order to fight some cold-war-type enemy and not the enemies we currently have.

Build expensive F22 fighters? What airforce does Al Qeda have? A-10s, helicopters and UAVs are far more effective at what is going on. But the AF wants to take ownership and control of all UAVs and elminate them because there aren’t any jocks in the cockpits of UAVs. And they hate A-10s because they’re slow and ugly.

Build expensive carriers? What navy does Al Qeda have? Some speed boats? Our “brown water” navy just about doesn’t exist. Yet we’re building big shiny ships to threaten China with, rather than existing enemies.

I see the media’s portrayal of the protests against China being less about Tibet, and more about being willing accomplices to portray China as the new Soviet Menace that we’ll be at war with in a few years.

44

Dave 04.09.08 at 3:08 pm

I fail to see why it is not permitted to disapprove of both the foreign policy of the USA and the domestic policy of the Chinese Communist Party. Both are run by oligarchical military/industrial complexes, and both are capable, unchecked, of doing a great deal of harm to a great many people.

I suspect it is equally true to say that both entities are using the existence of the other for their own purposes. I decline to offer moral support to either by collaborating in a one-sided condemnation.

45

engels 04.09.08 at 3:14 pm

I fail to see why it is not permitted to disapprove of both the foreign policy of the USA and the domestic policy of the Chinese Communist Party.

It is permitted.

46

novakant 04.09.08 at 3:19 pm

the present fairly nice liberal space that has been built since China’s open policy in 1980s.

yeah, right

47

ajay 04.09.08 at 3:23 pm

It’s now coming out that the tracksuited Chinese “volunteers” who guarded the torch in London and Paris – and were so enthusiastic about beating up French protesters – are, in fact, elements of the People’s Armed Police, the Chinese paramilitary organisation specifically charged with maintaining “internal stability” (ie beating up Tibetans, Uighurs and pro-democracy protesters).

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120765486995597695.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/torch-thugs-from-elite-tibet-force/2008/04/09/1207420486483.html
and every other outlet out there…

If it’s so offensive to China (as jack chen and demin say) to threaten to boycott the opening ceremony, how offensive is it to the rest of us to have Chinese soldiers beating up our fellow citizens on the streets of our capital city? We non-Chinese get sensitive about that kind of thing too from time to time, you know.

On the other hand, I guess now we know how the Tibetans feel all the time.

48

Henry 04.09.08 at 3:50 pm

engels – you do realize that your comments in #12 above not only miss the point of the post entirely, but are rather batty ?? Or would you care to point me to the precise place in the post where I lay out the arguments about the ‘moral conscience of the masses’ that you so very clearly detest?? But I would _of course_ deny the ulterior purpose of this post (the instructions that Ignatieff has provided us regarding how to deal with doubters are quite strict and explicit ;) )

49

engels 04.09.08 at 4:16 pm

henry – I didn’t say you laid out any such arguments; I said it appeared to be a view of the world underlying your post, based on what struck me as a rather simplistic rhetorical opposition between the pristine ‘widespread public reaction’ which favours escalation and the cynical elite self-interest which favours ‘keeping China happy’. Also, I didn’t attribute any motives to you, ulterior or otherwise. Perhaps it is you who needs to read a little more carefully?

50

Sebastian Holsclaw 04.09.08 at 4:25 pm

“I fail to see why it is not permitted to disapprove of both the foreign policy of the USA and the domestic policy of the Chinese Communist Party.”

You just did.

It is permitted, in the West. If you had been writing in China, it would have been censored.

That is a difference, maybe not an important one to you, but there we are.

51

Mikhail 04.09.08 at 4:36 pm

#47 First of all, they are not “beating up” people around the torch. They “prevent access”… :) There is a difference which centers around the right of anyone to defend against an attack. Which is what the protesters are doing – attacking the torch and people around it, including their own police! And second, it’s no more outrageous than US military snipers and security protecting Bush on his recent trip to Ukraine. ARMED… In other words – stop inciting people!

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LC 04.09.08 at 4:40 pm

peter @ 43: interesting pts. Clearly at least some parts of the US military would find it much more convenient or comfortable to have a more ‘conventional,’ i.e. state, ‘threat’ (and I note in passing that if the AF really does want to get rid of UAVs they’re stupid, given e.g. the Predator strikes of fairly recent months vs al Qaeda targets in the Pakistan border areas, one of which killed Abu Laith al-Libbi).

One would hope that the mil/industrial complex and the politics of Pentagon procurement will not push the US into a strategic confrontation w China. The problem or question is: How can the media cover the protests on Tibet, which are after all legitimate news, without falling into the potential trap you identify, namely helping build up a picture of China as a new major threat/menace? I’m not sure what the answer is.

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engels 04.09.08 at 4:46 pm

The problem or question is: How can the media cover the protests on Tibet, which are after all legitimate news, without falling into the potential trap you identify, namely helping build up a picture of China as a new major threat/menace? I’m not sure what the answer is.

One idea might be not to describe them by using simplistic and misleading buzzwords like “bottom-up”.

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Demin 04.09.08 at 5:26 pm

“If it’s so offensive to China (as jack chen and demin say) to threaten to boycott the opening ceremony, how offensive is it to the rest of us to have Chinese soldiers beating up our fellow citizens on the streets of our capital city? We non-Chinese get sensitive about that kind of thing too from time to time, you know.”

It’s not a sensitivity issue I am talking about. What I say is that when you talk about a political agenda of massive boycott, you also have to think about possible consequences, for logic’s sake. Actually I am pretty with the spirit of protest.

The ‘beating up’ thing has answered by Mikhail, thanks.

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Henry 04.09.08 at 5:32 pm

engels – the post doesn’t have anything in there at all that even hints at a claim about the moral conscience of the masses. I’m merely making a political science point about where the sources of pressure appear to be coming from (as noted several times, the post is about IR theory). Dan Drezner, in an update of his original post, broadens this claim to include the protesters in China too, which seems to me to be likely right on the empirical merits And if you genuinely believe that the reaction of political leaders don’t involve a lot of calculations of commercial self-interest etc, all I can say is that it is a bit rich to be accusing others of naivete (also, you may want to consider changing your _nom-de-comments-section_ to one more compatible with a benign view of what motivates the behaviour of political leaders)

And what exactly _did_ you mean then when you said that

Indeed, posts and comments on liberal blogs like this one might be one of the many mechanisms by which elite sanctioned views, such as those of establishment ‘public intellectuals’ like Michael Ignatieff, on who is to be the object of moral opprobium du jour perculate downwards…

This is the bit that I meant when I referred to your comment as being rather batty – and it _is_ rather batty, insofar as it means anything at all.

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novakant 04.09.08 at 5:42 pm

seems far more likely that much (if not most) of the anti-Chinese animus we are seeing comes from ‘above’ rather than ‘below.’

You seem to be hellbent on discrediting human rights protesters as being manipulated and controlled by ‘elites’, while ignoring the, rather obvious, explanation that they might simply be airing legitimate and deeply felt grievances. Not even the Chinese ministry of propaganda is insinuating that Sarkozy, Brown or any other western leader have been inciting these protests, instead they blame the Dalai Lama and “his gang”, which is of course equally false. Do you have access to any information we don’t know of, that would lend some plausibility to your top-down thesis? Else, please let the protesters be.

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engels 04.09.08 at 6:01 pm

Novakant, you are just repeating exactly the same misreading of my point made by lc (even down to his lame sarcastic trope about ‘private information’). Please see my earlier response to him. I am not trying to ‘discredit human rights protesters’ (charming insinuation!) and I do not believe they are being “controlled by ‘elites'”.

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Dave 04.09.08 at 6:32 pm

@50 since I am neither American nor Chinese, I expect a large segment of the population of both would tell me to mind my own f***ing business.

The point I was making is that there’s an underlying tendency, here and in a million other places, to behave as if there are only two sides in any affray, and that one of them, and by extension anyone who supports that side, is part of some huge world-spanning empire of capitalist nastiness, while the other, and by extension anyone favouring that side, is entirely innocent/misunderstood/being ‘demonised’ by said evil honky empire.

Sometimes it really isn’t about US foreign policy, sometimes it really is about China being ruled by people who are managing to combine Leninist brutalities with both gangster-capitalism and a frankly pre-1945 level of chauvinistic nationalism. I mean, that’s an impressive achievement, but it’s awful, and it really does have sod-all to do with Iraq. Or Israel. [Unlike most other things………]

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engels 04.09.08 at 7:32 pm

Henry – I’m sorry if my original comment wasn’t very clear. Obviously (I thought!) I was not trying to make the case for the saintliness of political elites!

Your post seemed to be drawing a repeated contast between the intentions of elites (which were assumed to be accomodatory toward China and were characterised as self-interested and calculating) and the anti-Chinese “widespread public reaction” which was not characterised in those terms, and so might be inferred to be morally inspired.

This is what came across to me as being simplistic, since, as I said, it seems to me that elites (especially in America) also have an interest in demonising China publicly even while they continue–hypocritically–to do business with it.

I’m sorry that you feel that the last part of my post was ‘batty’. I didn’t think it was all that crazy to suggest that there is currently a great deal of popular anti-Chinese sentiment in the US; in so far as anti-Chinese boycotts are not co-ordinated by organisations such as the Free Tibet movement they partly reflect this sentiment; such anti-nationalist sentiment often does not originate in the population at large but can propagate downwards from elite opinion leaders, and blogs might be one of the channels through which this happens…

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engels 04.09.08 at 7:43 pm

And before going, allow me to quote someone who I don’t believe Henry regards a ‘batty’ on the subject of the intentions of American elites towards China:

The same people — same individuals, same organizations, same publications, same blog sites – that ginned up a war with Iraq, and that have supported ginning up a war with Iran, are settling in for a longer term confrontation with China.

These people need to be judged on their track record. And compared with a confrontation with Iraq or Iran, a military showdown with China would be 10 times as unnecessary and 100 times as stupid.

James Fallows

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engels 04.09.08 at 7:52 pm

The point I was making is that there’s an underlying tendency, here and in a million other places, to behave as if there are only two sides in any affray

Indeed, Dave, and that is exactly what you (and Novakant) are doing by insinuating that anyone who does not support an Olympic Boycott must approve of the Chinese regime.

On the issue of whether China is demonised in the Western media (which would not btw rest on any assumption that it is ‘innocent’) you might look at this interesting piece by Daniel Bell.

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Henry 04.09.08 at 8:48 pm

engels – fair enough then, but the post was quite simply intended to address how one of the important questions of international relations – the extent to which foreign policy is set by leaders in some autonomous fashion, reflecting some variant of raison d’etat or is responsive to mass attitudes and public opinions. What seemed batty to me was your suggestion that this post was a channel for transmitting the views of Michael Ignatieff etc (I have no idea what his views are on this for the record) to a broader public. My impression, as it happens, is that foreign policy elites are divided on this, and that the division is roughly between commercial types who are pro-engagement and military types who are against. I don’t think that either side have made what I would consider to be a satisfactory case that they are right on the empirical merits – which is one of the reasons that I specifically avoided getting into these questions in the post (when I have mentioned this stuff in the past, it has been to point out that there is a debate rather than to come down on either side of it).

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engels 04.09.08 at 9:11 pm

Henry – I’ll concede that my reference to Ignatieff (which was supposed to be an ironic reference to Russell’s comment #6) was ill-chosen. (He is of course someone whom I regard as epitomising the kind of moralising liberal who played into the hands of rightwing militarists in the run-up to the war in Iraq, but I have no idea what his views on China are…) I did not btw say that ‘this post was a channel for transmitting the views of Michael Ignatieff’. If you look at many of liberal and “left” media figures and bloggers (in the US and outside) who supported the war in Iraq I think it is apparent that many of them are in Fallows’ words ‘settling in for a longer term confrontation with China’.

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LC 04.10.08 at 1:18 am

engels — I share your and James Fallows’ concern about a possible US-China confrontation or deterioration in relations. I would point out, however, that the size of the economic relationship (trade, and US debt held by China), coupled with the fact that China is of course a nuclear power, tends to dampen the prospect of serious confrontation — though it does not make it impossible. I also see little evidence of a lot of popular anti-China sentiment in the US (though I may be wrong about this; I have not seen opinion polls on the issue and I do not spend a great deal of time in the blogosphere). The US public as a whole is rather inattentive to most international issues, but it is not stupid, and, as Fallows suggests, stupidity is a prerequisite for advocating a US-China confrontation. As for elite opinion, certainly the Kissinger-Scowcroft wing of the foreign policy establishment is not in favor of military confrontation; neither are their Democratic counterparts for the most part. Fallows may have some grounds for concern about the neocons, but I tend to think he is drawing a somewhat too pessimistic picture. Perhaps wishful thinking on my part.

As for what you call my “lame sarcastic tropes” and “simplistic buzzwords,” I plead not guilty, certainly on the last score. “Bottom-up” is just shorthand. In any case, a blog comment is not a doctoral dissertation, and I certainly do not intend to worry over questions of diction in the way I do or would when writing an article. If that offends you, so be it.

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Dave 04.10.08 at 1:37 pm

@61: kindly show me where I have written one word on the subject of boycotting China in any shape or form. It is, on the contrary, you who are proving my point by assuming such a thing. I couldn’t give a flying f*ck one way or the other about an Olympic boycott, except in the sense that I think the whole Olympic ‘thing’ is a vast waste of money, and don’t intend to pay it much attention if I can avoid it. If that’s a ‘boycott’, I plead guilty. Otherwise, get real.

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engels 04.10.08 at 2:57 pm

Dave, you are obviously pretty angry about something. Since this discussion has been about the Olympics and possible boycotts I’d assumed it had something to do with that. If it doesn’t, then I’m more than happy to just ignore you.

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Angry African on the Loose 04.10.08 at 4:16 pm

comment deleted for incessant self-promotion

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