OPINION> Commentary
Rules of Olympic Gamesmanship
By Richard N. Haass (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-07-22 07:43

China lobbied long and hard to host this summer's Olympics, and thousands of Chinese literally danced in the streets when the decision was made to award Beijing the Games. This was to be a chance for the Chinese to show the world just how far they and their country had come.

I do not know if there is a Mandarin equivalent for "Be careful what you wish for," but if there is, it surely applies. China is getting a great deal of international attention, but not the sort it bargained for.

On the contrary, China is finding itself under intense international scrutiny for everything from its policy toward Tibet, human rights, and product safety to the level of its currency, its policy in Sudan, and global climate change. What was meant to be a moment of celebration has turned into one of criticism.

Indeed, it is likely that several prominent world leaders, including British Prime Minster Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, will not attend the opening ceremonies. Several prominent American politicians have voiced support for a boycott. Still other heads of state are weighing staying away.

Of course, China merits criticism in many areas of its domestic and foreign policy. But snubbing China is misguided. It ignores what the country has accomplished, and it risks consequences that are inconsistent with what the critics themselves want to see.

Some perspective is called for. Modern China is only some six decades old. Its economic growth has been and is truly astounding. Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty. Indeed, Chinese economic growth must be acknowledged as one of history's great achievements in poverty reduction.

China is not simply wealthier; it is also a far more open place politically than it was during the Mao era. Civil society is growing; there are now more than 300,000 NGOs. Official statistics show that more than 85,000 public protests occurred in 2005 over issues such as corruption, public health, the environment, and land use.

Even the recent earthquake in Sichuan revealed how Chinese politics are changing. Cameras were allowed in; senior officials were seen and heard.

There are also indications that China's foreign policy is evolving. China has played a helpful role of late in encouraging the Democratic People's Republic of Korean cooperation with demands to limit its nuclear capabilities. In Sudan, China supported a UN Security Council resolution establishing an international operation and committed 315 engineers to the UN-African Union force.

None of this excuses or justifies the shortcomings in Chinese behavior at home or abroad, which are many and real. But reality is not one-dimensional. China is changing, in many ways for the better, and further change in the right direction is not likely to result from a policy of isolating or sanctioning China.

If we want China to become a full participant, a stakeholder, in the international system, we are more likely to achieve this outcome by integrating China into the world's institutions. The Chinese need to see how they benefit from inclusion - and how they would suffer from not being one of the countries shaping and buttressing today's international institutions.

We should seek China's integration as a matter of self-interest. In a globalized world, global challenges largely require global responses, which are impossible if a country of China's size and population and wealth does not participate.

Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, promoting more efficient energy use, taking action on climate change, and maintaining an open global economy - these and other tasks require Chinese participation, even cooperation, if globalization is not to overwhelm us all.

One useful step on our part would be to end the anachronism of bringing together many of the world's principal leaders in the annual G8 meeting of industrialized countries and not including China (or India or Brazil, for that matter) as a matter of course.

But integration will succeed only if China and its leaders are open to it. This argues not simply for keeping nationalism in check, but for allowing greater political and religious freedom so that there are alternative sources of legitimacy and allegiance in Chinese society beyond that of economic advancement. This is something that the Chinese will largely have to do by and for themselves.

Outsiders can and should make their views known, but mostly in private and without saying and doing things likely to stimulate the very nationalism we want to discourage.

All of which brings us back to this summer's events in Beijing. China needs to show respect for human rights and allow journalists to report.

Rather than boycott Beijing, the world's leaders should embrace the Olympics and what they represent. The Olympics are a venue in which individuals and countries compete, but in conformity with a set of rules. This is exactly what we want from China in the 21st century.

The author is a former director of Policy Planning in the US State Department, and president of the Council on Foreign Relations Project Syndicate

(China Daily 07/22/2008 page9)