Playing for Keeps: From August 8 to August 24, China's Capital City Will Host the 29th Summer Olympics. It Promises to Be as Much a Political Event as an Athletic Spectacle. with That in Mind, the American Asked Eight China Experts to Answer This Question: Will the Beijing Olympics Ultimately Help or Hurt the Cause of Freedom in China?

The American (Washington, DC), May-June 2008 | Go to article overview

Playing for Keeps: From August 8 to August 24, China's Capital City Will Host the 29th Summer Olympics. It Promises to Be as Much a Political Event as an Athletic Spectacle. with That in Mind, the American Asked Eight China Experts to Answer This Question: Will the Beijing Olympics Ultimately Help or Hurt the Cause of Freedom in China?


[ILLUSTRATIONS OMITTED]

DAN BLUMENTHAL

During the 2008 Summer Olympics, 600,000 armband-wearing citizen volunteers will join 90,000 police, military, and paramilitary forces in Beijing, flush with hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on security technology to help enforce the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) writ. No one should be under any illusion that the Olympics will pry China open. On the contrary, the party's repressive techniques will grow stronger thanks to Western technology and training. The requirements for security technology in Beijing are large, and Western companies are rushing in to meet them. Some American companies are installing surveillance systems, while others are providing networks of security cameras.

As the former head of criminal intelligence for Hong Kong puts it, "They are certainly getting the best stuff." The "best stuff" is similar to the technology that was supposed to liberalize China throughout the 1990s. It didn't. Instead, Internet and telecommunications technology was put to work by the Communist regime against its citizens. The news that grabs headlines--for example, when Western companies provide Chinese authorities with the IP addresses of known dissidents--tells just part of the story of a Chinese security apparatus that has grown stronger through international commerce. Even before the Olympics, tens of thousands of Internet police monitored antiparty activities each day. During and after the Olympics, this number will certainly grow.

After the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, many foreign experts predicted that the days of one-party rule were numbered. But that was 20 years ago, and the CCP is still very much in power. True, it survives thanks to impressive economic growth. But no less important is the CCP's acquisition of sophisticated and modern technology to squelch dissent. The party simply has more resources to employ against those trying to use new technologies to push for a more open China.

In other words, by deepening trade with China, in particular technology trade, the West threw the CCP a lifeline. Although the "Tiananmen Sanctions" were meant to prohibit the sale of goods and services that would improve the repressive means of the state, there is simply no way for companies to ensure that technologies sold for commercial purposes are not diverted to police or security use. The Olympics have further opened the spigots.

All countries, including China, have legitimate concerns about terrorist threats during the Olympics. The problem is that the CCP's definition of "terrorist" includes Tibetans and Uighurs agitating for greater religious and cultural freedom. Indeed, as Liu Shaowu, a senior Chinese official in charge of Olympic security, has stated, the CCP has set its sights on anyone taking part in any protest. Even democratic countries err on the side of more centralized power when faced with potential threats. But China is not a democratic country: there are no checks on power, and there is no recourse for a citizen whose rights are abused. The ruling elite uses legitimate security concerns as excuses to become even more dictatorial.

With foreign journalists pouring into China during the Olympics, there will surely be protests against the CCP. But if the 1990s are any lesson, the Chinese Communists will emerge stronger, prouder, and more sophisticated in their repressive techniques, and they will be armed with the finest Western technologies to crush dissent well past the Olympics.

DAN BLUMENTHAL is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

JACQUES DELISLE

The Olympics are likely to have a modestly positive impact on freedom, civil and political rights, and kindred values in China. This unexciting prospect is more plausible than predictions that Beijing 2008 will bring a reprise of the 1988 Seoul Games (sometimes credited with expediting South Korea's democratization) or the 1980 Moscow Games (sometimes interpreted as hastening Gorbachev's reforms, and thus the demise of Soviet Communism). …

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Playing for Keeps: From August 8 to August 24, China's Capital City Will Host the 29th Summer Olympics. It Promises to Be as Much a Political Event as an Athletic Spectacle. with That in Mind, the American Asked Eight China Experts to Answer This Question: Will the Beijing Olympics Ultimately Help or Hurt the Cause of Freedom in China?
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