The Olympics and the Technology of Repression

Dan Petegorsky

While we're debating the nuances of the "nanny state," Naomi Klein has an important and frightening piece this morning on "The Police State 2.0." Her take home point:

When Beijing was awarded the games seven years ago, the theory was that international scrutiny would force China's government to grant more rights and freedom to its people. Instead, the Olympics have opened up a backdoor for the regime to massively upgrade its systems of population control and repression.

So alongside China's economic shift into capitalist hyperdrive, Mao can still gaze happily down on the politically coercive powers of the state from his continuing perch atop Tiananmen Square. What does this bode? Should we be as alarmed as Klein suggests?

  • Runtmg (unverified)

    Interesting question? First, we shouldn't be alarmed at China rather we should be alarmed that our ability to hold the high ground in these talks are laughable. Bush has been an advocate for War, Torture, and eavesdropping.

    China has 1.2 billion people. Their bureaucracy have become capitalists. This is dangerous times for China especially when the next worldwide crisis takes place.

    When the bugs and recorders are out, this is less a sign of China's power than it is of their weakness. Like terrorism the more you try to control the message and feelings of human beings the more you are likely to invite criticism and repute.

    Should we be afraid? No is my answer. We should understand that China will self destruct eventually if they continue to go down the path they have chosen.

  • tl (unverified)

    Beijing would not have been awarded the games without heavy support from the US and other western countries, hungry to break into the Chinese market. KPOJ had an interview this morning with Dave Zinn who wrote an interesting article on the topic:

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    Should we be as alarmed as Klein suggests?


  • Wizened1 (unverified)

    I'm more alarmed by the extent to which the USOC and the MSM are kissing the feet of the Chinese and what it means for us rather than what these events augur for China.

    Why the rush of the US and the USOC to apologize for cyclists wearing black masks in the Beijing airport? The USOC insisted that it was inappropriate for the athletes to "embarrass" the host country? China and the US can brand such "embarrassment" as political, but a black mask isn't a black fist, and the athletes have every right to be furious that the Olympics are being held in a city in which they even have to be concerned that they'll run the race of their lives in conditions that will impair their performance and likely endanger their health. China should damn well be embarrassed.

    Once again, the athletes are pawns no matter where they come from. Silly children, don't they realize there are more important things involved, like selling Pepsi and snazzy shoes?

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    I decided many months ago to boycott the Olympics. I feel for the athletes who generally work hard and sacrifice for many years to win their place in the games, but I want nothing to do with the TV and media and sponsors and organizations who will turn a blind eye to China's complete assholiness (really, is there a better word for it?) as they have ignored their pledges to clean up their act politically, environmentally, and socially, tossing thousands out of their homes to make way for Olympic villages and venues, and waiting till now to try to clean the air. It pisses me off to no end. I hope the games are a political bust for China, I hope the next US President and Congress repeal our trade agreements and take the steps necessary to return the lost manufacturing to America, and the People of China stand up in a great Revolution and overthrow the slave masters of China once and for all. Just maybe these games will be the catalyst! Shameless plug: Go to and vote in our Olympic Politi-Poll about Bush at the games.

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    We should wake up to the opportunities, threats and challenges China presents: (1)It is a given that China now has an authoritarian political system that routinely violates a broad range of human rights. The question is how to change them. Posturing does not always help. (2)The US relationship with China is complex. Our relationship with China will define the strategic future of the world for the 21st century. No relationship matters more, for better of for worse, as we try to solve the global problems of keeping stability among great powers, of promoting global economic growth, of shifting to a non-carbon based energy system, of reducing weapons proliferation, of controlling terrorism, and of dealing with the new transnational threats of infectious disease, environmental pollution, international crime, and failing states. So, as we push China on human rights, we need to keep in mind we have these other important strategic goals. (3)A recent Carnegie Endowment for Peace report estimated that China's economy would be as large as the US economy by 2035 and twice as large by 2050. (4)China is the peace issue of the 21st century. The most important decision our next generations may have to make is whether to go to war with China or not. Our responsibility is to prepare them well for that decision. Let us not behave towards China as we have behaved towards the Middle East. (5)We can act right here in Oregon on this issue. We do not need the Congress and President. We can engage China through our educational system by significantly expanding our Mandarin language and study abroad in China programs It is the most important foreign policy issue before the Oregon legislature and Governor. It would have enormous payoffs for every dollar spent. (5)For more info and proposals see my website here.

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    Today, on his national show, Thom Hartmann was making the argument that China has managed to successfully make a shift from a communist state to a mature and modern fascist state.

    Obviously, the 20th-century fascist regimes in Italy, Germany, and Spain never achieved maturity - but the Chinese appear to have the made the leap "successfully."

    The free-traders always told us that if we got the Chinese to open their markets, their government would open up too. I'm no longer sure that's true - and the evidence certainly seems to suggest otherwise.

    In a man-on-the-street interview on NPR today - admittedly a sample of one in a nation of 1.3b - one fellow wondered aloud why Westerners talk about human rights so much... after all, he argued, everybody in China is making money...


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    one fellow wondered aloud why Westerners talk about human rights so much... after all, he argued, everybody in China is making money...

    NPR ran a great series last week on China's increasing role in Africa, where its trade is now valued at $55 billion. In a reflection of how China wants its trading partners to turn a blind eye towards its own internal policies, the Chinese similarly take a "hands off" approach to human rights issues in Africa.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    To some countries, "human rights" don't necessarily mean individual things like right to self-expression, right to vote, right to religion, and so on, as they do in the US. To some countries, "human rights" take on broader, social rights, such as right to shelter, right to food, right to freedom from tyranny.

    China was founded when an underclass overthrew a tyrannical aristocracy that enslaved millions. As such, it is not surprising that the Chinese people are less concerned with individual rights, as we are in the US, and far more worried about societal rights.

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    Kari and Dan,

    It is easy to find faults with China’s domestic and foreign policies. They give so many valid reasons for so doing. But China is also doing many good things (like bringing more people out of poverty than at any other time in human history), and cooperating with us in big and small ways on many of the global issues I mentioned above. But the most fundamental strategic issue for the 21st century is whether China and the US can learn to live together without war. China is a rising superpower which may, over the course of many years, replace the US as the world’s dominant superpower (like the US replaced Britain over the 20th century). These superpower rivalries, especially when resources become scarce, as they are now and as we see happening in Africa, can easily lead to terrible wars. So I caution against slipping easily into rhetoric or language that characterizes China as some kind of enemy. The reality is much more complex. And we need to find a way to live together.

    Just pointing out China’s faults and shortcomings is not an action that contributes to changing China’s behavior. It is OK to remind ourselves that China has serious problems or issue we would like to change. But that should not be a substitute for thinking through how we should respond. Try suggesting what we should do.

    Kari, you are right. Since Nixon went to China, we have been increasing gambling that opening China up and making it part of a global economy would over the long term lead China to develop a more democratic form of government. I think it is too soon to tell, and that we need to redouble our efforts at engagement (more Mandarin, sending our students to study in China). In this, I’m with George Will (here) that we should “double down on China.” But we also need to be ready if it does not work.

    As for the evidence on human rights and opening up, note that a recent NY Times article reported (here) “political change, however gradual and inconsistent, has made China a significantly more open place for average people than it was a generation ago.”

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    A workable link (sorry) to the Howard French 8/2/07 NY Times article “Despite Flaws, Rights in China Have Expanded” is here. And a further quote from that article: "But Chinese people also increasingly live where they want to live. They travel abroad in ever larger numbers. Property rights have found broader support in the courts. Within well-defined limits, people also enjoy the fruits of the technological revolution, from cellphones to the Internet, and can communicate or find information with an ease that has few parallels in authoritarian countries of the past. “'Some people will tell you, look at the walls, and say they are still pretty high, while others will tell you that there is a lot of space between the walls,' said Nicholas Bequelin, a China specialist at Human Rights Watch. 'Both things are true.' "Chinese who try to challenge the one-party state directly say authorities are no more tolerant of dissent than they were in the 1980s, and in some cases they are tougher on citizen-led campaigns to enforce legal rights or stop environmental abuses. "On the other hand, the definition of what constitutes a political challenge has changed. Individuals are far less likely to run afoul of a system that no longer demands conformity in political views or personal lifestyles."

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    Dave - I appreciate the deep insights you bring to the China discussion, and acknowledge up front that I'm way out of my depth here. That said, a few questions:

    1)What do you say to those who argue that right now China looks like the US on steroids - and not in a good sense: that is, that the path of development is to place growth ahead of any other considerations, so that just as we're trying to deal with the downsides (in terms of the environment, equity, etc.) of development here and in other of the previously advanced industrial societies, China is moving at an incredible scale and pace in a manner that will make our attempts at remediation irrelevant?

    2) I also think that different actors have different roles to play. Business, diplomatic and military planners have their own policy considerations to mind - but even as those play out don't you think it's essential that NGOs and worldwide social movements maintain a tough and vigilant stance and continue pressing on issues of justice and human rights?

    3) I'd be curious what you think of the contract that Farreed Zakaria draws in his new book between China and India.

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    A footnote on Chinese mining companies in Africa: an e-news brief I just got from Phil Mattera at Dirt Diggers Digest points to a very disturbing new report in the September issue of Bloomberg Markets magazine on child labor for Chinese mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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    Reply to your questions above (part 1):

    Economic growth on steroids and the global environment: Yes, this is one of those global strategic issues that suggests we must find a way to work with China. From our perspective, we need to worry about two possibilities: (a) China doing nothing to reduce its pollution and carbon emissions, and (b) China beating us in developing the alternative energy systems of the future and gaining the economic high ground.

    On China doing nothing consider Michael Klare’s statement (more here): “By the year 2030, it is expected that China will use half of the world’s coal. And unfortunately China intends to use a kind of primitive, by modern standards, coal burning facilities to generate electricity. And, if this continues to be the case, we are all hostage on the planet to China's coal use, because this will be the leading source of green house gas, carbon dioxide producing emissions. And there will be no hope of averting the worse global climate change disasters. So, we have all got to work with China. This is really a catastrophic phenomenon.”

    From Oregon’s perspective, if we do all we can to reduce our carbon emissions and China’s does nothing, our efforts will not mean much. I think Oregon needs to blend its sustainability efforts with a China strategy (more Mandarin and sending student to China in significant numbers).

    Note, on the other hand, Tom Friendman’s view (here): “Green China is going to be a real challenge for us because they're going to come up with low-cost, scalable green technologies,... and then they're going to use those low-cost, scalable green technologies and come our way and clean our clock in the industry of the 21st century.”

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    Dan, Part 2

    Pressing China on human rights: Yes, I’m for vigilance and pressure with some nuances: we need to become more sensitive to what works with China (and what does not) and we need more balance in our engagement with China. I think we need to educate our next generations to be much more knowledgeable and sophisticated about China so they can advocate effectively. Our engagement now with China is largely economic and military (roughly half the defense department budget goes towards preparing for war with China. For a view on this and China as our ally see Tom Barnett’s article “The Chinese Are Our Friends” here). To this we add protests over a variety of conditions in China (or policies abroad). What is missing for such an important relationship is educational engagement (again, teaching our next generations Mandarin and send them to China to study).

    Fareed Zakaria’s worldview: Zakaria stresses that our children will live in a very different economic and geopolitical world than the one we are use to. I agree. He does not focus on just one country, like China or India, but emphasizes “the rise of the rest,” that is countries all around the world that have seen rapid economic growth. He writes, for example, “In 2006 and 2007, 124 countries grew at a rate of 4 percent or more. That includes more than 30 countries in Africa, two-third of the continent.” This diverse economic growth is creating what he call, as the title of his book, “The Post-American World.” His chapter on China is called “The Challenger.” His chapter on India is called “The Ally.” (For a Charlie Rose interview with Zakaria see here.) Strategically, I think that after China, India is the country we most need to engage educationally. We could easily do this through a high school study abroad scholarship program (see here) that would cost us no more than out current schools

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    <h2>Thanks for the reply and references, Dave (except for Tom Friedman, whose arrogance and smug self-certainty I thankfully feel free to disregard after how insanely wrong he was on Iraq). I'd call Zakaria the "thinking person's Tom Friedman," but I think even that would be an insult to Zakaria....</h2>

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