Asian Soft-Power: Globalization and Regionalism in the East Asia Olympic Games

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The East Asian Olympic Games as Visual Spectacles of the Abstraction of Globalization

After the spectacular conclusion of the historic 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, various Chinese officials declared that Beijing successfully held a "coming out party" that had ultimately increased China's soft power. (1) Despite the protests by numerous international organizations surrounding the Games, the Beijing Olympics realized China's celebrated entry into the global community as a reliable and peaceful member. Although the legacy of the Beijing Games is still being established, many in the West were supportive of the positive effect that the Beijing Olympics had on China's soft power and international standing. (2) The Beijing Olympics, Susan Brownell optimistically assessed, was China's "peaceful integration into the international community." (3) Not only was China's culture and soft power showcased, but also China's globality, as Marc Blecher of the Asian Survey noted: "The message was that China has arrived as a country with a sophisticated global (and not just Chinese or Asian) sensibility, the wealth to match, and a capacity for producing far more than cheap exports." (4) Through the sumptuous Olympic Games, China showcased the distinctive allure of its national culture and realized its international ranking as a global power to both itself and the world community.

The extensive uses of "soft power" and a "coming-out-party" are often unchallenged descriptors of the Beijing Olympic Games. Soft power was popularized by Joseph Nye to describe the non-economic and non-military forums for exerting national influence and encapsulates earlier notions of public diplomacy and cultural relations. (5) The relationship between soft power and the Olympic Games, Wolfram Manzenreiter furthers, "seems to be an appropriate occasion to enhance the soft power of their hosting nations, particularly because of the easy association with the Games' positive images of excellence, fairness, universal friendship and mutual exchange." (6) President Hu Jintao has also framed the 2008 Olympics as key to promoting China's soft power in recent years. (7) In addition, the image of a "coming out party" is also popular and may seem apropos given the fact that China is a rising power and rapidly developing economy. In fact, many have likened the "coming-out-party" of the Beijing Games to the other two summer Olympic Games held in East Asia during their developing economic periods: the 1964 Tokyo and 1988 Seoul Games. (8) The Olympic Games provided high-profile events for all three of these East Asian nations to demonstrate not only the "political reliability" of these host cities to their international audiences but also their national identity to domestic citizens. (9)

Despite the popularity of the terms "soft power" and "coming-out-parties," there are limits to using soft power and coming out parties as valid socio-cultural categories in analyzing the Olympic Games held in East Asia. Central to understanding how the discourses on Asian Soft Power and the Olympic Games interact is situating them within their larger, global political economic contexts in which they emerge. By using the discourses on "Asian Soft Power" and "Coming-Out-Parties" as a prism, I argue that the East Asia Olympic Games are symbolized to legitimate the Olympic Games as an abstracted, universal parade of nations that is severed from their specific, geopolitical conditions. When the East Asian Olympics are celebrated as "soft power" and as "coming out parties" that transformed each Asian host city into a member of the global community, the significant differences of each Asian Olympic Games is bracketed. The political, economic, and social problems inherent in how the Olympic Games work in each East Asian country is displaced by the seemingly more sensational aspects of being incorporated into the elite group of Olympic hosts. Hosting the Olympic Games serves as an allegory of the "universalization of universalism" in that the East Asian Olympics display the inevitable unfolding of the universal aspirations of the Olympic Movement. …


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