It is about money. That is why technology giants such as Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft allow themselves to be co-opted into helping China enforce domestic mind control; why the world averts its gaze from the Darfur genocide China underwrites through its Sudanese oil purchases; and why whatever international protests might materialize in response to China’s violent suppression of Tibetan revolt are likely to be symbolic.
The odds are that talk of an Olympic boycott to express solidarity with Tibet’s plight will remain just that: talk. There is too much cash on the table for conscience to prevail. Public opinion may cry in sympathy with Tibet, but do not expect democratic governments to do anything to wipe away the tears.
At the moment, China’s economy is more or less in the same league as those of the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. The United States and Japan are still, respectively, the first and second most potent economic powers. Sooner rather than later, however, many project China will be number one. China, of course, is the world’s most populous nation. Consumer-driven economies of the First World dream of tapping into China’s unexploited markets. In the meantime, the prosperity of developed nations is buoyed by cheap goods — ranging from toys to cement — produced by China, which is also the world’s fastest-growing economy.
The West’s self-delusional cycle of hoping to cash in on Chinese consumer markets while becoming dependent on Chinese exports holds the US especially captive.
The plight of Tibet’s Buddhist population pales in comparison with America’s need for China’s cash. By the time President Bush leaves office, US national debt is projected to reach about $10 trillion. About half of that is the cost to date of the Iraq War, the first since the American Revolution to be fought primarily with money borrowed abroad. Much of the remaining $5 trillion is also due to the free-spending Bush White House, which, during the years the Republicans controlled Congress, failed to restrain pork while enacting tax cuts that squandered the surplus accrued during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
China, of course, holds a huge slice of that debt. And you do not need an MBA to know it is not smart to insult the one who controls your credit cards. Even a champion of Tibetan liberation such as Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knows that; no doubt that’s the reason she seeks to defuse talk of an Olympic boycott.
The day before a small protest of Buddhist monks was foiled by Chinese security forces, sparking the riots that have roiled Tibet and prompting demonstrations in Chinese communities with substantial Tibetan populations, the State Department removed China from its list of the top-10 most repressive nations.
China may not be as totalitarian as it once was, but it is still an unregenerate authoritarian state. The freedoms that China enjoys are principally economic. The press is regulated, religion co-opted, the Internet neutered, and dissent — as Tiananmen Square demonstrated — suppressed with deadly force.
The world today is a smaller, more interdependent place since China invaded Tibet nearly 60 years ago. The US needs China’s help to keep Iran from going nuclear and to disarm the North Korean nuclear threat. Those important imperatives, coupled with incremental steps toward a more open society, undoubtedly figured in the decision to reassess America’s official view of China as the worst sort of international pariah. But these factors are symptomatic of America’s addiction to China’s cash.
China sought to host the Olympics for a number of reasons: to demonstrate to its own repressed people that its government was indeed worthy of respect, to erase from international memory the totalitarian stains of the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square massacre, and to mark its emergence as a self-confident world power.
There is no doubting China’s economic might. But China’s rulers are insulated and, in many respects, insecure about their place in the world. The international community’s failure to censure China’s support of the murderous Sudanese regime is not a mark of approval; it is a ploy that allows China to save face, to maintain the illusion of dignity in the shadow of monstrous and murderous acts. Such is the case with Tibet.
The Olympics are a glittering prize that was awarded China as, some might say, an incentive to better behavior. Others might call the games a bribe.
The point is now moot. The Olympics, viewed through the prism of China’s conquest and occupation of Tibet, are proving to be not a source of strength but a point of vulnerability. How confident can China be of its place in the world if it must pressure neighboring Nepal into closing the peak of Mount Everest, over which the Olympic torch is supposed to pass, because it fears a pro-Tibetan expression of sympathy? What should be a moment of glory, will instead be a moment of ignominy — for China and for the world.