Editorial: China under the microscope

By Ændrew Rininsland

Didja hear the one about China, Björk and the Dalai Lama?

In the face of increased international scrutiny leading up to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese government is working to hide any sore issues which might result in international pressure following the games. The reaction to Björk’s Fri., Mar. 7 concert-that ended with the song “Declare Independence” and chants of “Tibet”-showcased three of the major ones: government control of the media, government suppression of speech and, of course, that whole damn Tibet issue.

According to a Mar. 12 Reuters article, Björk’s performance has angered the Chinese government and it’s likely future performers will be screened far more thoroughly. It’s also likely Ms. Björk will never perform in China again. This is an unfortunate development, especially at a time when China is apparently starting to loosen its controls on live acts by foreign artists. China has never exactly been benign about the whole Tibet thing-Sonic Youth had their concert last year attended by no less than 17 members of the Ministry of Culture after they learned the group had played at free-Tibet-style events.

Another interesting aspect of the story is how long it took to reach the world media. A Mar. 8 Times Online article mentions how several days passed before word of the outrage escaped China via the Internet. The Chinese government’s control over information is a fairly ongoing issue in the international community and has been more embarrassing than anything for all parties involved. A typical example is China’s censorship of Google, which has agreed to filter search results in order to access the vast Chinese market. Exactly what the Chinese government will do once the hoards of foreign journalists invade the country for the games this summer remains to be seen.

This also isn’t the first time the Olympic Games have taken place in a country with a less-than-awesome human rights record. The 1936 Games in Berlin under the Nazi regime were surrounded with controversy regarding Hitler’s treatment of Jewish athletes, while the 1980 Moscow Olympics were boycotted by a large number of countries against the aggressive nature of the Soviet Union. In fact, an alternative series of games were staged by the United States during the latter as a result of this boycott.

What differs with the Beijing Olympics, however, is the exceptional willingness of business and national interests to ignore the dismal record of Chinese human rights abuses due to China’s sheer size and the fact that everyone and their mother wishes to trade with that country’s consumer base. Everybody knows that China isn’t exactly down with the Bob Geldof crowd and most take

it as a given that routine abuses do occur. However, nobody’s willing to call China on their shit, whether it be censoring foreign performers, messing with one of the most fundamental Internet technologies or, yes, even playing Supreme Unquestioned Ruler in a smaller country they probably have no real right to. As it stands, I’ve probably destroyed my ability to ever travel to China merely by writing that last sentence. Yet, despite the fact that this is a country to which most people still joke about sending their worst enemies, the majority of western businesses are absolutely terrified of offending the sleeping giant and thus preventing future business.

If China’s human rights policies don’t evolve by the time its population is a full-fledged industrialized market, we have to do some serious soul-searching and ask ourselves, do we really want to do business with a country that bans people just for repeatedly shouting the name of one of its territories?

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