China’s need for liberalization highlighted

Freedom New Mexico

The closing ceremonies were not quite as spectacular as the opening ceremonies. But they were spectacular enough, capping an Olympics that both from an athletic and a showmanship standpoint had to be counted as a success, though it cost the Chinese government some $40 billion.

This year’s games were also notable for highlighting the rise of new media. People around the world accessed more than 1.2 billion pages and 72 million video streams on NBCOlympics.com through the Internet, while Yahoo drew even more unique visitors.

This success, however, did not translate into impressive ad revenue; only an estimated $5.75 million of the $1 billion in ad revenue NBC received came from online video ads.

In the wake of what Chinese officials viewed as something of a coming-out party for China’s place in the world as a Great Power, however, questions will persist as to what this international showcase might mean for China’s future, especially for whatever future there might be for political freedom in the country with the largest population on earth.

Chinese communist authorities were obviously sensitive to the potential for embarrassing incidents in conjunction with the games, and worked hard to prevent them.

Some efforts were at least outwardly benign — legions of “volunteer” squads filled with smiling and unfailingly polite people trying to assist tourists in having the most pleasant experience possible, highly organized events, adjusting schedules to make for the most interesting live TV coverage possible given time-zone differences and other logistical problems.

But not everything done to assure the most perfect spectacle possible was so benign. Those smiling volunteers often prevented tourists from going where they really wanted to go.

Unsightly houses and neighborhoods were simply bulldozed. Known dissidents were jailed for the duration. The Chinese government designated several protest zones for “authorized” protests, but didn’t authorize any protests from the few applications it got. Foreign protesters were simply detained and deported.

Will the fact that foreign governments and the International Olympic Committee were generally silent about China’s manifest human-rights problems convince the Chinese authorities that their model — liberalized economic policies combined with strict one-party rule and tight discipline — will work for the indefinite future? Or will the increased contact between China and the outside world, combined with a growing middle class and persistent problems in Tibet and Muslim-dominated western provinces, inevitably lead to some political liberalization as well?

We can only hope for the latter.