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Jewish World Review July 19, 2001 / 28 Tamuz, 5761

Michael Ledeen

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Be careful what you wish for -- SO China has fulfilled its dream of winning the 2008 Olympics, thereby gaining lots of face among its own people ("See how important we are? See how the world admires us?") and lots of money from participants, TV broadcasters and others. Critics of the regime are very upset, because the International Olympic Committee (which most recently achieved celebrity by dragging Salt Lake City's lobbyists to new levels of corruption) failed to listen to the argument that one shouldn't hold the Olympic Games in the world's biggest and perhaps nastiest tyranny, as if the games themselves bestowed some sort of legitimacy.

I have never understood this argument, since the most famous modern Olympics — Hitler's Games — undermined the regime's legitimacy and exposed its vicious racism. The modern Olympics, indeed, were designed to toughen up Frenchmen, who had recently been overrun by their German neighbors in a short and humiliating war. The hope of the French organizers was that the French people would become competitive, and thereby provide better cannon fodder to the Army. (That didn't work very well either; France couldn't break its unfortunate habit of surrendering to Germany in every major war).

The Chinese regime is simultaneously arrogant and insecure: Arrogant in its demand that the rest of the world cater to its tender sensitivities on all matters (this is the famous "face" we are constantly told we must permit them to save), and terribly insecure about its own legitimacy, both at home and abroad. Only a very nervous bunch of rulers would be murdering its own citizens at a record pace — they have executed more people in the last three months than the rest of the world in the last three years — and dramatically limiting free speech, access to information, and even simple discussion (Falun Gong reports that the Chinese Government now treats any conversation between any two Falun Gong members as an illegal assembly). And only a highly insecure regime would use "psychiatry" as a method of political intimidation, recalling the worst of Soviet mental torture.

Such a regime might have thought twice about the consequences of bringing the Olympics inside its boundaries. No doubt, the majority of the hordes and swarms of Western journalists and broadcasters who will run around the country for the next seven years will cater to the regime's every whim. But there will be many who will see some of the terrible things that are going on, and report them. And many of the tens of thousands of athletes, coaches, trainers, doctors, support staff, camp followers, fans, tourists and businessmen will actually speak to some Chinese citizens, and provide them with some insight into the nature of life in freer societies.

Western democracy is a terribly subversive force, and some of its power will pass through the bamboo curtain into the People's Republic. The Chinese see the face-enhancing aspect of their victory. We should see it as an opportunity to spread our anti-tyrannical antibodies throughout the land. If we do it well, then the Olympics may yet be seen as the same sort of turning point as the Helsinki Agreements we signed with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. You may recall that these were widely viewed as an enormous victory for the Kremlin, because they legitimized Soviet control over the satellites. But there was a little-known provision that required the United States to monitor Soviet human-rights practices, and this became a lethal weapon against Soviet Communism. It enhanced the status of the small but highly effective dissident movement, and provided an international forum for critics of the regime.

In like manner, we should use the Olympics as a lens to focus the world's attention on the nature of the Chinese regime, hailing its progress in creating more wealth for some of its citizens, celebrating its recognition of the importance of private property, praising its adoption of more transparency in business transactions, but condemning its use of slave labor, denouncing its ruthless suppression of basic freedoms from religious practice to open debate, and encouraging greater liberalization of the political system.

If we succeed in deflecting the Chinese regime from the current wave of repression, the Olympics may yet be a victory for all the Chinese people.

JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Tocqueville on American Character . Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Michael Ledeen