Monday, February 4, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympics: The Chinese Government Is Screwed

It appears increasingly likely that China will not be able to deliver air suitable for athletes, in time for the 2008 Olympics (or, indeed, for years to come). There could not be a better way to advertise China's pollution problem -- to tell the world what a terrible price China is paying for its rapid economic advance -- than to convene the planet's best athletes there, force them to breathe that air, and give them and the sports commentators something to talk about, for years to come. It also appears increasingly likely that China will present, to the world, the picture of a political mess. The Chinese government needed to be responsive to its people's dreams and concerns before 1989. If it had done so, there might not have been a protest or consequent massacre in Tiananmen Square that year. Failing that, there was an opportunity to become more responsive thereafter. That, too, has substantially failed to happen. At present, the government is ramping up its suppression of dissent. But the dissenters are not quitting. With the eyes of the world on that nation, the ugly truth will be highly visible. In short, within the Olympic context, the Chinese government is doing its level best to persuade the world that the government is illegitimate and that the Chinese route to prosperity is not the right one. This is not Abu Dhabi, with its shimmering wealth. This is a land of a billion people who cannot get clean air or drinking water. And the whole world is going to see that. Having the Olympics in Beijing was a proud idea, but it does not seem likely to serve the Chinese government well.