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The flame of nationalism

April 24th, 2008

As the Olympic torch touches down in Australia, it is hard to see how any good can come of the entire exercise.

After Kevin Rudd’s visit to Beijing, which seemed to herald a newly mature relationship between Australia and China, we’ve spent a week or more embroiled in a petty squabble, of a kind which is all too familiar in international relations, over the role of Chinese torch attendants/security guards, with the Australian government insisting that all security will be provided by our police and the Chinese saying that the attendants will “protect the torch with their bodies”.

George Orwell observed over 60 years ago that

Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

and history since then has given plenty of examples. It looks as if the 2008 Olympics will join them.

Until relatively recently, it looked as if the Games might produce some net positives, making it harder for the Chinese government to suppress dissent and pushing them in the direction of democratic reform. In this context, protests against the torch relay might be seen as increasing the pressure.

In fact, however, the protests have focused entirely on the national claims of Tibet (as represented by the government in exile of the Dalai Lama) and have produced an unsurprising nationalist reaction in China (effectively in support of the existing government). The result, almost certainly, is that the position of supporters of democracy will be worse than ever, with any criticism of the Chinese authorities being viewed as support for external attacks on China’s territorial integrity.

As far as Tibet is concerned, all this is likely to prove counterproductive. A democratic Chinese government would almost certainly come around to the viewpoint that territorial control over Tibet is an expensive indulgence, in terms of both economic cost and international standing, while a democratic and independent Tibet would have little choice but to pursue close economic and political ties with China. But as long as China remains in its current political stasis, no movement on this issue is likely.

About the only good news is that the torch will be gone soon, and we in Australia will be able to forget about the Olympics for a few months.

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  1. Ian Gould
    April 27th, 2008 at 17:59 | #1

    111 BC to 938 AB to be precise.

    Well I guess if it was only a little over a thousand years ago it’s perfectly reasonable to regard it as an accurate indictator of contemporary Chinese policy.

    You know like we link the Punic wars and World War II to provide a single narrative of continuous Italian aggression and like we regard the Highland clearances as an accurate guide to current English attitudes to Scotland.

  2. Chris lloyd
    April 28th, 2008 at 17:02 | #2

    JQ said: “A democratic Chinese government would almost certainly come around.” A democratic Chinese government is unlikely to happen, ever. Democracy is considered by Chinese people to be a western idea, and they resist it on cultural grounds. Just ask Lee Kuan Yu.

    We should not hold off saying what we think because it might stall some imaginary march towards Chinese democracy.

  3. Chris Lloyd
    April 28th, 2008 at 17:03 | #3

    Gandhi says: “The genuine zeal with which many decent Chinese people support their government’s lies should be a major warning to us all about the dangers of monopolised media.� How do we explain the zeal of Chinese students and residents in Australia?

    Imagine that in the lead up to 2000, Aboriginal activists organised demonstrations for Aboriginal land rights around the torch relay. It may have happened, for all I know. Would 1000’s of expat Australians carrying flags crashing the aboriginal demonstrations and openly monster them? Would the Australian embassy organise such events?

    The Chinese government, and more broadly Chinese people around the world, are dangerous lunatics when it comes to issues of national sovereignty. We are better off facing it now rather than later.

  4. Ian Gould
    April 28th, 2008 at 22:01 | #4

    “Democracy is considered by Chinese people to be a western idea, and they resist it on cultural grounds. Just ask Lee Kuan Yu.”

    Hey just any kleptocratic dictator and they’ll tell you democracy isn’t right for their people.

    Here’s another idea, why not ask some Chinese what they think?

    It used to be claimed with a straight face that East Asians were innately incapable of democracy (much like it used to be claimed blacks were really only happy as slaves).

    This claim was used to justify backing a series of right-wing dictatorships across each Asia of which Lee Kwan Yu’s Singapore is now almost the last example.

    Go tell the Taiwanese and South Koreans who were jailed and tortured for demanding democracy that democracy is a “western concept”.

    China will becoem a democracy, it’s only a matter of time.

    Howe much time, depends in part on how much time the CPC can gain by exploiting China’s nationalism.

    Tossing around epithets like “thugs”, “dangerous lunatics”, “glass-jawed bullies” et cetera plays into their hands.

  5. Ian Gould
    April 28th, 2008 at 23:01 | #5

    A few more thoughts on Chris Lloyd’s post.

    1. Since Chinese are innately incapable of democracy, the martyrs of Tien An Mien died in vain. But, hey, they were thugs and lunatics like all Chinese so no great loss. Fewer of them for us to worry about in war of extermination that must inevitably come (and preferably sooner than later).

    2. Similarly the several million Chinese dissidents currently in prison camps are all deluded fools. So let’s stop wasting time worrying about their human rights and leave them rot.

    3. As Chinese, the population of hong Kong is also obviously incapable of democracy. The limited moves in that direction which occurred to date are obviously pointless and futile – what they need is a sensible pragmatic dictator like the sainted Lee Kwan Yu to keep order (at bayonet point if necessary) and protect western investment.

    4. The population of Taiwan, also culturally and ethnically Chinese, are also clearly incapable of democracy. The last decade or so is just some bizarre aberration. The newly elected Guomintang government needs to junk such ridiculous notions and return to the fine traditions of their predecessor, Chiang Kai Shek.

  6. KY Choong
    April 29th, 2008 at 09:19 | #6

    I wish Chinese people everywhere realise how marvelous it is that the “Anglo-Saxon” world is made up of many countries (UK, USA, Canada, Australia, NZ) and it is not necessary to have a single political unit governing all these countries. Chinese history and its ideal of a single empire is indeed a heavy burden. The beneficiaries of this ideal are the ruling elites, not the Chinese people.

  7. Chris lloyd
    April 30th, 2008 at 22:41 | #7

    Ian,

    I lived in Hong Kong for 4 years, and was well aware that even my University colleagues resented the notion of democracy, while simultaneously fearing Beijing. There is only one Chinese democracy in history – Taiwan. That little island that Beijing wants to nuke and which we pretend is part of their regime.

    I think you have misread my comment when you say: ‘So let’s stop wasting time worrying about their human rights and leave them to rot.� I intended to imply the opposite. My comment is basically in dispraise of JQ’s post, which I take to be arguing that we should all have shut up about Tibet because it will upset Beijing and slow the inevitable transition to democracy. I really hope China do become a liberal democracy. But I am very confident that they will not, just like I am confident that there will never be peace in Israel, ever.

    I want us to be more vocal about Tien an Men and Tibet and Taiwan and Darfur and Zimbabwe and Chinese dissidents and Falungong. Like Bob Hawke said, we should stand with the guy in front of the tank. The Chinese students who monstered the Tibetan protesters in Canberra stand with the tank.

    The right want us to keep silent so as not to upset trade, and even lefties like JQ (seem to) want us to keep quite because it will interrupt perceived progress. How about we just start calling a spade a spade? Tibet is not China. They are not any more Chinese than I am, regardless of previous periods within the Chinese empire. And they are being screwed. Perhaps the monks were not enlightened rulers but that does not make Beijing right.

    Here is a final query that someone might be able to answer. We all call Taiwan by that name because we know it is not part of China. Yet in sporting contests, athletes from Taiwan are called Chinese Taipei. For the Olympics I expect this is a requirement of the license agreement to broadcast. But how do you explain that tennis players from Taiwan who compete in the Australian Open are also mis-named in this bizarre way? The conspiracy to not offend China runs deep.

  8. Ross
    May 5th, 2008 at 13:02 | #8

    Read M.A.Jones PBS posts and dispute his facts. http://discussions.pbs.org/viewtopic.pbs?t=68073&sid=ce0b20590dd445725153c83b5ef21c7f

    Further, I don’t agree with Chinese one child policy for the Han, nor believe that it has done anything positive for development or sustainability. I have however seen the eyes of “hard seat” Han Chinese when they have described their sad plight that will stay with me forever. The sacrifices the Han Chinese feel they are making for the advancement of the minorities that are allowed several children is real. So too the fact that the US/EU is promoting minority unrest & division within China as an anchor against its rise. The US in particular can’t get past the “at your knees or at your throat” thinking of the Chinese that was never a rhetoric borne out by fact.

    So exactly where should any revised Chinese borders stand? The masses of collapsed inner and outer so-called “great walls” are the factual historical record showing the folly of past Han attempts to retreat into a core realm. Ultimately these were more deadly to it than the costs of administering and subsidising the poorer outlying regions of an expanded multinational state. Through history it was often raids that forced the Han to trade at unfavourable terms or otherwise be sacked. In times where Han trade was withheld by means of force a desperate poverty befell those ethno regions.

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