The Toronto Star
21 October 2007
When Toronto was bidding to host the 2008 Olympic Games, the mayor of Rome gave the bid team some advice, having just lost Rome's bid to host in 2004 to a sentimentally attractive campaign by Athens. According to Francesco Rutelli, the IOC veers between safe "technical" bids and "political" bids representing a more daring "idea."
Toronto's campaign turned out sadly underwhelming and embarrassed by the city's goofy mayor, but wariness persisted that the still semi-totalitarian Chinese regime might damage the Games.
Still, the bigger and more interesting question was its opposite: What could hosting the Games do to the Chinese regime? Nine months from the event, it is apparent that the optimists may have had it right. The responsibility of hosting the world is having a positive effect on Chinese policy. But will it last past next summer?
() With a vast population, long history and semi-throwback hybrid social model, China sees the world by its own lights. Attachment to the principle of non-interference in the sovereign affairs of states may seem retrograde to Canadian believers in the international community's "responsibility to protect." Yet, it is part of a strong belief system of a country sensitive to a history of outside meddling. But unfortunately, rogue regimes determined to get away with doing whatever they want inside their own borders such as North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Burma have counted on Chinese principles for support.
() In Sudan, strongman Omar al-Bashir has been defying the world community over his wilful stomping on Darfuris, confident that the Chinese, who have been developing energy sources in Sudan, would veto any intervention from the UN. But in the past year, the Chinese have been quietly telling al-Bashir to get a more acceptable act together.
() The issue of the Games is a trump card they can't ignore.
The Chinese are also apparently repelled by the crudeness of the repugnant regime in Burma. Burma is more than a behavioural eyesore on China's border. It is a potentially destabilizing situation and the more alert Chinese can see that fat dictator generals who order the shooting of monks are the problem, not the solution.
True, the Chinese have resource interests there, and true, less than 20 years ago they wantonly shot demonstrators at Tiananmen. But the Chinese regime today is not 1989's, and younger political cadres are reportedly arguing that tomorrow's leadership must be more open still to match China's growing economic and intellectual integration with the rest of the world.
China still has miles to go before the constructiveness of their international role matches the global reach of their economy, and we'll only know when the Games are over if these signs of forward movement will last. But the news on China is looking better, and that's good for the world.
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