If we are to see the Olympics as (good heavens, it hurts to type this) China’s big coming-out party, then China cannot hide behind the “developing country” defense much longer. When the international community pressures China on the environment or human rights, China needs to play by the rules for the big kids.
I wrote this post for Beijing Olympics FAN! yesterday about Spielburg withdrawing his support from the Olympics, and I got the chance join in the discussion on BBC’s World Have Your Say program last night (podcast link in a bit). I do think China should use it’s famed soft power with Sudan, which is exactly Spielburg’s point, BUT I think Spielburg’s protest isn’t the right way to do it, and can easily cause more harm than good.
I worry that average Chinese people will see Spielburg’s protest either as an insult to Chinese decision-making or an anti-Chinese Westerner, not a stand for human rights. When World Have Your Say discussed this on their site, someone wrote in that criticisms of China are only made by Westerners afraid of China’s rise to power.
It’s a bit of a cliche (although not quite as bad as calling the Olympics China’s coming-out party) to say that the Chinese are face-conscious, but I really feel that any political statement that embarrasses or insults China won’t have a good result. In the US, we love to criticise our government, we love to talk about what those idiots in Washington should do.
But criticism of Chinese decisions — especially criticism from an outsider — is much more likely to cause hurt, anger and offense. A foreign protest/boycott won’t cause China to suddenly change it’s policies, and I’m actually afraid that it will have the opposite effect, and create more tension in relations between China and the US.
Another cliche about China is that everything you want involves bargaining. To effect change, Western activists and politicians need to keep haggling with China, not just walk away.
Edit: Other (more eloquent) China bloggers on the same theme: