Int'l Herald Tribune

Let's See an Olympic Victory for China's People

Friday, July 20, 2001

Jim Hoagland-- The Washington Post

Washington -- There was much to be said against choosing China, or any other nation ruled by a corrupt dictatorial mob, to host the 2008 Olympics. But the choice has been made. It is time to pay tribute to those who made it possible and for whom the decision will count the most: the Chinese people.

Once again they are standing up, overcoming burdens of their closed, misbegotten past. Their awakening to the world forces their rulers to run ever faster and to take gigantic risks that will bring cataclysmic change.

Jiang Zemin and his elderly cohorts on the Politburo claim the vote by the International Olympic Committee last Friday as their handiwork and use it to burnish their record. That is not totally bad. Snagging the games should diminish any "need" that Mr. Jiang may have felt to enhance his legacy by going after Taiwan before he leaves the presidency next year.

He is strengthened in his bid to elevate his protégés to the top rungs of power at the 16th Party Congress in the autumn of 2002. Beijing's victory in the Olympic sweepstakes also heightened his profile in international politics. He flew immediately after the decision to Moscow to sign a friendship treaty with Vladimir Putin.

These negative political effects are likely to be transitory and superficial, especially when compared with the changes that will be brought by China's nearly simultaneous preparations for the Olympics and the severe adjustments in the economy that membership in the World Trade Organization will force China to make.

You have to acknowledge Mr. Jiang's audacity. In poker terms, he keeps raising the stakes just to stay in the game. It will take $20 billion to prepare for the Olympics, and painful industrial and financial restructuring to comply with WTO rules. A Leninist gerontocracy such as the one Mr. Jiang heads is ill-suited to oversee either task, and unlikely to survive trying to manage both simultaneously.

But that is theory. Those who predict that holding the Olympics in China will inexorably liberalize Chinese Communist rule out of existence have no more to go on than those who argue that it will inevitably increase repression and stabilize the regime. We can't know the future. That is what is exhilarating about the Olympic Committee's decision. It is a hand grenade of change rolled out onto the table that will take years to explode or be disarmed.

Reality for the moment is the uplifting reaction to this event by the Chinese public, which emerges from the televised and print accounts I have seen as justifiably proud and joyous over an opportunity to show that their country can meet modern international standards of sportsmanship, hospitality and openness.

The last time you saw Chinese crowds on television was probably when they were menacing the U.S. Embassy, or otherwise being manipulated into the streets by their rulers for short-term political gain. Think of the light- years that separate last weekend's spontaneous, globally televised festival in Beijing from Mao's xenophobic and self-destructive China.

Two other crowd scenes are important to my understanding of the road China and its people have been traveling. The first comes from 1980, when the post-Mao struggle for succession was not fully settled. A hint of the yearning for the opening ahead came from the crowds that gathered in Beijing and Shanghai to catch a glimpse of my daughter, then a six-month-old and, for China, a rare foreign baby visitor. Curiosity, not fear or hostility, was the reaction of Chinese crowds to foreign visitors by then.

The other memory is of the crowds that gathered in Tiananmen Square 12 years ago this spring in demonstrations that began as a simple, eloquent demand that China's rulers behave decently, only to end in a state-ordered massacre. The students, workers, journalists and foreign ministry personnel who dared to hold their government to account by demonstrating in the square were among the bravest, most honorable people I have encountered anywhere in nearly four decades as a working journalist.

Those people have not gone away. They have been repressed by more than a decade of brutal counterrevolution condoned by two American presidents. They have paid a heavy price for their commitment to decency. But that commitment still inspires fear in their masters and respect from democrats everywhere. May the 2008 Olympics become theirs, and add to their freedom and honor.