The Olympics are underway in Beijing, with what no doubt was a spectacular opening ceremony. For the next 16 days the world (or at the very least this blogger) will sit glued to the television as the world's top athletes battle for guts and glory. The Athenians definitely knew what they were doing.
But does the world know what China is doing? Really? Sure everyone knows China is a Communist country and most people have some idea of what that means. China's list of human rights violations - both with respect to its own people and others [insert African country of choice here] - is quite appalling, as is its foreign relations record quite generally, with few exceptions. But from my conversations with those not directly involved in researching China's domestic and/or foreign relations, few fully grasp what's at stake.
An opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal goes some way in shedding some light on the issues, concluding with a rather optimistic tone that the Olympics may in the long term herald in a freer China. In a somewhat less optimistic fashion, Human Rights Watch argues that "the Chinese government and IOC wasted a historic opportunity for reform." The New York-based Human Rights in China similarly issued a press release on the worsening human rights situation in China. And in the recent edition of Foreign Affairs, Elizabeth Economy and Adam Segal write of China's embarrassing coming-out party, set against a background of poor environmental standards, increased pressure over Sudan and its poor record of accountability and transparency - just to name a few. The list goes on and on.
Sadly, the China the world will see for the next sixteen days is not China, per se, but China as the CCP would like for it to appear. Open. Free. Strong. Dare I say it - Liberal. Ironically, this vision may be among the few things China and its critics agree on. A crucial difference, though, is the means by which to attain it.
Nevertheless, human rights violations aside, the Olympics promise to bring much phenomenal competition and countless spectacular performances - both on and off the fields. I, for one, am very much looking forward to it. Human rights violations aside.