Fri, May 30, 2008 - Page 8 News List


Blame in a vacuum

The Beijing Olympics have prompted many to draw parallels with the 1936 Berlin Games. However, it is not the Games themselves but other events prior to World War II we should be considering.

While there is inevitably a polarization of opinion on how the world should deal with China, as demonstrated in recent letters and articles in the Taipei Times, the complexity of the situation entails that a single approach or action will not work — and could ultimately be counterproductive.

The Games are merely a sporting event that China wants to use as a showcase — we all know that. However, this in itself is not a problem. All countries hosting any international event seek to do the same, so begrudging China for this is both naive and hypocritical.

If the Olympics have brought the world’s attention to some of China’s problems, then we have an opportunity to do something constructive about it. Boycotting the Games will achieve nothing other than fanning the flames of Chinese nationalism and anti-Western feeling. Losing face is untenable to many, particularly the Chinese.

There is precedent of a backlash from a nation humiliated. The humiliating terms Germany suffered as a result of the Treaty of Versailles in the aftermath of World War I laid the grounds for a nationalistic leader offering to restore pride and punish a scapegoat. We all know what happened next.

However, mere appeasement is also a dangerous course. The pacts of Britain and the Soviet Union with Hitler now appear laughable but at the time were widely believed to have secured peace.

But would appeasement have worked if deployed before rather than after the Treaty of Versailles? Quite possibly, in my view: as in comedy, timing is everything.

If we take a stand against the Olympics, China may use this as a justification not to negotiate on other more important issues, such as the environment, human rights abuses and the freedom of Taiwan. Equally, if we continue to appease China for economic reasons, we merely weaken our position to negotiate.

China and its government still need our investments and markets to sustain growth, and the reason it hasn’t attacked Taiwan is because of the economic repercussions that would flow from the West. Think forward 10 years and imagine negotiating with an unreformed Chinese government that is economically and militarily stronger, with a secure energy supply through global alliances such as the West exploits in the Middle East.

We therefore can’t afford to look at these issues in a vacuum and advocate knee jerk responses. If we don’t make the connection now between the cheap products we are enjoying from China and what implications there could be from fueling its economic growth, while also failing to appreciate the Chinese psyche and viewpoint and how best to tackle these issues so as not to inflame nationalism, then we won’t be able to point the blame solely at another “evil empire” when things go wrong.

Philip Wallbridge


On reforming academia

A plethora of private institutes in Taiwan have been developing into universities. Successive governments have approved the changes apparently because the applicants met the requirements.

But the government forgot two very important elements: democratization of power structures and the mentality and abilities of teachers, the latter being a product of the former.

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