The Dalai Lama and his clique have never for a day refrained from violence and terror. His childhood teacher, an Austrian, was a Nazi…
You have to be kidding. Hard to see how China’s going to make a success of the Olympics if this is the best they can come up with on media relations. Moises Naim looks pretty prescient in the light of his observation last November that when the world’s entire activist contingent descends on Beijing,
…the government will inevitably attempt to control and repress the activists. And that will be a new and frustrating experience for a centralized government that is not used to containing well-organized, media-savvy foreigners who work through highly decentralized, international, nongovernmental organizations that know how to mobilize public opinion to advance their causes.
Charlie Beckett, who runs the Public Media Forum at the London School of Economics, reports that the Chinese have been seeking his advice on managing the media better – though it’s not clear how they’d manage to effect such a sea change in so little time, even assuming they were inclined to.
It’s tempting to feel a sense of schadenfreude as China trips itself up over and over again while carrying the Olympic torch, given its appalling human rights record. But on the other hand, remember David Miliband’s observation when he spoke in China last month:
We will only resolve [shared threats like climate change and fragile states] through a new bargain between major states in the international community, embedded in our bilateral relationships, multilateral institutions, and not least the partnership between China, the world’s fastest growing economy, and Europe, the world largest single market. Isolation would be a disaster for that process and there is too much at stake. That is why my message to British people back home is simple. Do not boycott the Olympics, celebrate them instead.
The risk is that if China manages to cock up the Olympics as royally as she seems poised to, then at best it will make it harder to engage her on issues like climate change where there can’t be any solution without her. The world needs China to feel safe to come out of her shell – and this is the best prospect for long term progress on human rights record too (look at Burma, after all – hard to see many signs there of isolation being an effective driver of change).
At worst, of course, the Olympics could go bad at the same time as other chickens (like food inflation or a sharp economic slowdown) come home to roost too – and then all bets would really be off. As Naim commented last year,
It’s fair to say that the Chinese government probably had no idea what it was getting into when it applied to host the Olympics in 2000.
Update: some good reporting here from ITN.
One key factor is a media strategy that, while still blunt and heavily reliant on censorship and propaganda, shows more nuance than usual for the lumbering Communist Party.
This last week the government has used something it traditionally viewed as a big negative, any suggestion that it’s not in total control, to its advantage by going large with print, still and video coverage of Tibetans attacking Han Chinese in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, and destroying their property.
Not only does this rather ironically paint the Chinese state and its massive police force as something of a victim, analysts said, but it also stirs up feelings of fear and anger among many Han, the nation’s majority population, that add a personal dimension to the riots.