Jennifer Leong (Hong Kong, UWCAC06-08)
French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who was the first world leader to raise the possibility of skipping the Opening Ceremony of this year’s Olympic Games to protest against China’s handling of the Tibet riots, revealed on July 9 that he would be attending the festivities in Beijing after all. This adds to a growing list of leaders of state travelling to the Chinese capital next month, which includes American President George Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he will attend the closing ceremony only, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have said they plan to stay away.
Sarkozy warned that ‘a boycott could push a population of 1.3 billion people into wounded nationalism’. Beijing was elected Host City for the 2008 Olympics 7 years ago in Moscow, with the Olympics Commission’s vote of confidence that ‘a Beijing Games would leave a unique legacy to China and to sports’. Since then, the Games has been held as a great opportunity for China to showcase her abundant heritage to the world, contributing to her international standing and growth of tourism. A poorly attended Opening Ceremony would no doubt sour relations between the fiercely patriotic Chinese and the absent world leaders and the countries they represent.
Another more realistic reason for world leaders to temporarily sidestep the infamous human rights record of China is a purely economical one. China, as a rising power, is currently creditor to 502 billion USD American debts, that is around 19% of America’s Treasury Securities. China is also a major client for European enterprises, like the plane manufacturer Airbus, not to mention a major textile exporter. Worsened relations with the Asian giant could mean disaster on the economic front.
This is not to say the leaders of the world should throw away all principles of human rights and democratic values to please China. Of course, the country today is still troubled by serious issues like the lack of progress in negotiations with the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader in exile, and the lack of press freedom in the country. However, there is doubt over the effectiveness of putting political pressure on China by boycotting the Opening celebrations. The Communist Party has always found strength in acting toughly, as witnessed in the crackdown on the Tibetan riots in March; in the face of challenge, the Government would never back down, neither would it make concessions, because that would mean political victory for its challengers. In light of this mentality, there is no doubt in my mind that acting defiant with the Chinese authorities would not produce constructive outcomes. Instead, the world leaders might consider fighting for their course by visiting Beijing next month, chatting with President Hu over a serving of jasmine tea.
South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, July 10 issue
– United World College Student Magazine –