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Beijing Olympic Boycott Over Burma Will Only Alienate Chinese People

New America Media, Commentary, Xujun Eberlein Posted: Nov 05, 2007

Editors Note: After the bloody crackdown on protestors in Burma, human rights activists, pundits and politicians the world over called for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics pointing out the Chinese governments special relationship to the Burmese junta. But commentator Xujun Eberlein says the Chinese government is not one to interfere in other countries' affairs, and maybe America should follow their lead.

Recently I emailed a relative of mine in China, asking how he felt about the suggestion that Americans boycott the Beijing Olympics because of the Chinese governments support of the Burmese junta.

Those Americans have a problematic attitude, he responded. They envy and fear Chinas newly developed strength and wealth, so they are trying every way to find problems with China, picking bones from egg yolk. He thought that Chinas policy towards Burma was totally normal, and that it was the American reaction that was absurd.

This relative is an average man who works for a small business, not in any way related to the government. His response is quite typical among other mainland Chinese I spoke with. This point of view may be biased, but no more so than those calling for the boycott.

Some commentators have pointed out various reasons not to blame China for Burmas problems, like the fact that Beijing has very limited leverage over the junta, that China is not Burmas biggest trading partner and that very little is known about Burma to begin with so blaming China isnt really fair.

Also, it has been consistently Beijing's foreign policy to not interfere in other countries' affairs. Such a policy obviously does not meet the standard of many Americans who look at justice as something measured on a global scale. Still, judging from consequence rather than motivation, is the non-interference policy really that bad? Looking at Americas recent history in interfering with other countries Panama, Kuwait, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Iraq and more who can say whether our foreign policy is absolutely a better one?

So, if we should boycott the Beijing Olympics because of Chinas non-interference foreign policy on Burma, should Beijing prohibit the American team from entering the Games on account of our invasion of Iraq?

If the hawks understand anything about China and Chinese people at all, they should know that boycotting would further alienate the majority of Chinese people from America and fasten their ties to the government. Some insightful economists have pointed out that, today, the legitimacy of Chinas government is built on two things economic growth and nationalism. The 2008 Olympic Games fulfill these ideals perfectly by stimulating national pride and speeding development in Beijing.

Americans tend to underestimate the power of nationalism in other countries. At the beginning of the war in Iraq, didn't many expect the Iraqis to be grateful to their American liberator? But why is nationalism so hard to imagine? As someone once said: I might fight with my brother all the time, but my brother and I will stand arm in arm against an outsider. Therefore, the ones who boycott the Games, not the Chinese government, have a better chance to become the enemy.

The Chinese government is also known for its hardiness against foreign pressure, especially when it comes from the United States. From the 1950s to early 1970s, the United States led an international isolation movement against China. The results? China simply ignored the outside world while suffering in turmoil inside, until President Nixon extended an olive branch in 1972.

Beyond Burma, there are more reasonable arguments against the Beijing Olympics. The total expense, mainly on construction, is in the tens of billions of dollars. This is on top of the direct hosting expense, which is estimated to be $2.4 billion and will be covered by income from NBC, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and marketing revenue. Given the fact that a mere $40 can support an entire year of education for a poor, rural child, how many children could get basic education if this money were spent on them instead?

A Chinese official reportedly said that The 2008 Olympics Games may advance Chinas GDP by 3 to 4 percent. What he did not say, or even understand, is that such increase is on top of the already overheated urban development, at the cost of the rural poor. The gap between China's urban rich and rural poor is already huge, and rapidly expanding. The 2008 Olympics is only widening this dangerous gap.

Contributing more to the problem is the destruction of historical structures, local villages, and the environment in general, to make way for the very expensive new construction. But it's too late to stop such destruction now. It was something the International Olympic Committee could have done six years ago. Shouldn't you boycott the IOC instead?

Related Articles:

Banning China: How American-Style Capitalism Led to Toxic Products

Beijing Taxis: Ready or Not for the Olympics?

Chinese Bloggers Look Beyond U.S. Tariff

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