Mon, May 12, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Beijing’s biggest enemy is itself

By Sushil Seth

Is there a method to Beijing’s madness regarding the Olympics? Obviously there is. But if the objective is to make China look good, its ruling oligarchy is going the wrong way.

They found themselves wrong-footed when the Olympic torch relay became entangled with the Tibetan human-rights issue. All their heaving and weaving about the unrest in Tibet failed to convince audiences abroad that it was the work of the Dalai Lama clique involving some wayward monks.

All this talk of cultural genocide in Tibet, Beijing believes, is a canard fostered by the Dalai clique to defame China and split it from the “motherland,” a heinous crime by enemies of the country. It was an overkill, figuratively and literally speaking, by a regime used to this sort of talk.

Having been caught on the defensive, Beijing decided to go on the offensive.

It is sheer madness to elevate the Olympic torch relay into an issue of monumental importance to China as if the country’s future depended on it.

China had hoped to formally inaugurate its new status as a superpower through the Olympic extravaganza, choreographed in Beijing with other countries cast in a supporting role. It would be the international acknowledgement of China’s new power, with heads of states making a beeline to pay homage to the star of the 21st century.

But the pesky Tibetans have upset China’s carefully choreographed Olympic drama.

And any talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives will be a diversionary tactic to drag on until the Olympics are over.

What is the method in this madness? First, it is enabling the regime to mobilize Chinese people behind the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on a highly-charged issue of national honor of hosting the Olympics — a sort of coming of age party for China as a great and respected power.

By promoting, projecting and upholding the national honor against hostile international elements (particularly in the West), the CCP and the nation become indistinguishable. In other words, the party is the nation and vice versa.

Any voice of dissent and moderation in China is thus silenced. And the regime finds itself suddenly enjoying a level of legitimacy. And, temporarily, people forget all its sins of omission and commission.

Such madness of rallying people against a highly charged symbol of national honor is dangerous. Adolf Hitler did it in 1936, enveloping Germany in an orgy of self-congratulation. And we know what eventually happened there when nationalism developed into chauvinism leading to World War II.

It is not suggested that China is necessarily going that way, but to stress the extreme danger of stoking nationalism that might easily get out of hand.

The danger is not from the Olympics, but from its misuse as the symbol of national honor and glory.

One sincerely hopes that China’s leaders are aware of the dangerous game they are playing with nationalism. For instance, such overtly visible use of its paramilitary blue tracksuits-wearing contingent to provide security for the Olympics flame simply aggravated the situation in London and Paris, leading to the charge that they were acting like “thugs.”

And in Australia, during the Olympic torch relay in Canberra, the Chinese embassy reportedly was involved in putting together a show of support by about 10,000 Chinese in Australia who descended on Canberra in buses from Sydney and Melbourne.

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