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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The ‘Olympic Factor’

    Eric Reichenbacher columnist
    Eric Reichenbacher

    On July 13, 2001, the International Olympic Committee elected Beijing the host of the 2008 Summer Games. Against clean, cosmopolitan Toronto and Paris, smog-choked Beijing seemed a risky choice. As the games draw near, however, it is becoming obvious that the decision was a good one. Today, the world is a much better place thanks to the “”Olympic Factor.””

    China, like the U.S., has tended to be an ornery superpower, flouting international norms and supporting pariahs when it serves its national interest. However, with the Olympics in sight and the world’s attention turning toward Beijing, Chinese foreign policy has assumed the cuddly and innocent face of its official Olympic mascots, called “”The Five Friendlies.”” According to Beijing’s description of the mascots, “”The Five Friendlies express the playful qualities of five little children who form an intimate circle of friends.”” Goodbye “”Red Dragon.””

    Recently, China’s nascent image of responsibility on the global stage has been unmistakable as it withdraws support of thuggish regimes from the Sahara to Indochina. The unexpected phenomenon picked up speed as Beijing cut its longstanding assistance for Robert Mugabe’s failed experiment in Zimbabwe. The vengeful and tactless policies employed by Mugabe had, for years, turned a fertile land into an economic basket case, cowing anyone who dared to speak out. Despite mounting international pressure, Mugabe’s despotic regime could always count on China as its sole lifeline for international trade, investment and aid – but not anymore.

    Next, a frustrating and deadly impasse was broken late last month when China pressured the oft-vilified government

    Against clean, cosmopolitan Toronto and Paris, smog-choked Beijing seemed a risky choice. As the games draw near, however, it is becoming obvious that the decision was a good one. Today, the world is a much better place thanks to the ‘Olympic Factor.’

    of Sudan to acquiesce to plans for a United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force to enter the embattled Darfur region. For years, Sudan hid behind the U.N. Security Council veto wielded by China, its only significant economic partner, while government-supported militias killed hundreds of thousands of Darfuris with impunity. Sudanese crude has been integral in fueling China’s double-digit growth, but with the outcry over Darfur, the tax on China’s image is untenable. “”With the Olympics coming, it appears China is more apt to take criticisms of its investments in the Sudan to heart,””

    said Jeremy Norden-Paul, director of divestment for UA’s STAND chapter.

    Finally, just last week, China used its significant leverage in Myanmar, exhorting the nation’s military junta to cease its violent campaign against protesting Buddhist monks who are fed up with the pugnacious regime. In his best impression of a stinging condemnation, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said, “”China hopes that all parties concerned in Myanmar (Burma) show restraint, (and) resume stability through peaceful means as soon as possible.””

    These actions by China may seem disingenuous, and long-overdue responses to issues that the West continually harangues it for. However, it does mark a stark change in China’s foreign policy. Historically, the only criterion in forging relations with China was the adoption of the “”One China Policy”” – formally denying Taiwan’s independence from the mainland. China didn’t care how oppressive or unfair you acted within your own country as long as you had raw goods and Taiwan was not one of your friends. This policy of non-intervention drew many nasty bedfellows into the Chinese camp – countries like Sudan that had been sanctioned by the rest of the world for its atrocities. With last month’s developments, it appears China has amended its formerly quixotic reverence for non-intervention, beginning to take its image into consideration when making friends. Chalk it up to the “”Olympic Factor.””

    Sure, China may lose oil contracts in places like Sudan, but this is a small price to pay for avoiding a public relations nightmare on the grandest of world stages. A well-organized protest of China’s conciliatory approach toward the genocide in Darfur at the Olympic opening ceremonies could tarnish China’s image and make Western investors think twice about extending their business contracts. The outcome of the cost-benefit analysis is obvious – with the world’s attention trained on Beijing, China is more amenable to international pressure against its support of the world’s thugs.

    It remains to be seen whether these moves toward moderation on the international stage will translate to increased freedoms within China. South Korea provides a precedent for Olympic-driven democratization, propelled by the international attention on protests leading up to the Seoul Games in ’88. The pattern seems unlikely in China as the puissant government has “”discouraged”” protestors and indicated an escalation of censorship. It is not taking the matter lightly. International journalists will have access to China like never before, but this doesn’t mean China will lose control of its disaffected masses.

    In all, the sage-like prospicience of the IOC in granting the Games to countries that can be nudged towards benevolence has been pretty uncanny. Maybe we should give them a real test – a country whose international image has great room for improvement and whose stewardship of a certain fissile technology will determine our world’s fate. You know where I’m going. Raise the stakes of the “”Olympic Factor”” and support a bid for the ’16 Pyongyang Olympics and the ’20 Tehran Games!

    Eric Reichenbacher is a junior majoring in international studies and economics. He can be reached at

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