« Hamdan Verdict | Main | Virtue Triumphs! »

August 07, 2008

Comments

So, uh, no one made any bets on any records being set in Beijing, right?

I'm not sure I agree with you on this one, Hilzoy, although usually I do. Why shouldn't the world have to partake in the atmosphere where so many of its factories are located? Over fifteen million people live in Beijing - that's 5% of the population of the United States. They live there all the time.

China has struggled through a lot - western imperialism, then 20th century war and revolution. It's been devastating, and disasterous, but they're working hard to come out of it. Certainly the government sees things differently than we do in the U.S., but they do try to provide a decent life for a lot of people. We should be helping them with the patience and understanding of friends, and applauding their achievements (while, of course, making real efforts in the diplomatic and economic spheres to change what we can, and persuade them to take a path that restores the human rights of the people the government is oppressing). We have no reason to ridicule and embarrass them - especially not as we have recently reached a low point in so many ways.

I'm sorry for the athletes, but they're competing against people from all over the world who have to contend with whatever environmental difficulties they face in their own countries.

"We can cheer the athletes from every country -- including China -- who achieve great things at the Olympics.
"But we should not lie to ourselves about the healing power of the Olympic spirit."

More from The Nation here

China has struggled through a lot - western imperialism

Eastern too.

Sapient: I'm fine with help. I just think people shouldn't hold athletic competitions there. Likewise, I don't think anyone should hold swimming competitions in waterways so polluted that it threatens swimmers' health.

they do try to provide a decent life for a lot of people

Does a decent life not include having decent air to breathe?

Why shouldn't the world have to partake in the atmosphere where so many of its factories are located?

Because massive pollution doesn't necessarily follow from the presence of factories? Some pollution is unavoidable, but the Chinese government and corporations have made explicit choices to forgo air pollution control technology because it cuts into profit margins. In many cases, we're talking about relatively small costs, but anything that hurts profits is obviously unacceptable. They made their bed but I'm not sure why we should force Olympic athletes to wheeze and choke in it.

Over fifteen million people live in Beijing - that's 5% of the population of the United States. They live there all the time.

Um, good for them. What does this have to do with...anything at all?

I'm sorry for the athletes, but they're competing against people from all over the world who have to contend with whatever environmental difficulties they face in their own countries.

I'd be somewhat surprised if most countries' Olympic athletes train in atmospheric conditions like those of Beijing. National athletes are generally not consigned to the worst environments a country has to offer for their training.

Apparently four cyclists were forced to apologize for wearing masks to Beijing.

Adam, that's unAmerican.

Just wait until the protesting starts.

Can a successful Olympics be run in a country of control freaks?

Can a successful Olympics be run in a country of control freaks?

I thought 2002 in Salt Lake went rather well.

The olympics stopped being a big deal around 1996, maybe sooner (I'd say 1992 but the Dream Team is too hard to ignore).

No one had to wear pollution masks in Salt Lake.

"The olympics stopped being a big deal around 1996, maybe sooner . . ."

The Olympics are obviously still a big deal to the athletes.

But in terms of the Big Picture, on a global scale, the Olympic ideal, etc., it seems its all about the host country putting on a good show and showing off its wares. Advertising. And in some cases, propogandizing.

Perhaps Beijing isn't an ideal place, but the world shares responsibility for the man-made pollution there, plus part of the air quality problem has to do with the proximity of Beijing to the Gobi desert.

Turbulence, you say that "the Chinese government and corporations have made explicit choices to forgo air pollution control technology because it cuts into profit margins". The "profit" that multinational corporations get goes into the pockets of people from around the world (very little of it in China). China's interest in supporting these corporations is to improve the lives of its people - something which is actually happening for many of them. The challenges China faces, and even some of the solutions that have been imposed, are far beyond what we might have been able to do under similar circumstances. I'm not apologizing for their inhumane prisons, their repression of speech and religion, and all the other things that we all know occurs there. But comparing them to where they were twenty-five years ago, they have made amazing progress. We should be carrying them along (by example, first and foremost - something that we all agree we've failed at recently). By having the Olympics there, the world sees the Chinese hospitality (which is legion), culture (which is rich, and is being recultivated after the devastation of the cultural revolution), but also experiences some of the pain that we benefit from every time we buy a Chinese product. It reminds me of the environmental justice movement here - the poor live next to the factories; the rich forget what that's like. We're citizens of the world and need to know what our neighbors face.

Perhaps Beijing isn't an ideal place, but the world shares responsibility for the man-made pollution there, plus part of the air quality problem has to do with the proximity of Beijing to the Gobi desert.

Proximity to the Gobi desert would be less problematic if Beijing hadn't spend the last few decades cutting down trees and taking other actions that inevitably foster desertification.

The "profit" that multinational corporations get goes into the pockets of people from around the world (very little of it in China). China's interest in supporting these corporations is to improve the lives of its people - something which is actually happening for many of them.

First, I dispute your claim that very little of the profit made in China actually stays with Chinese people. Secondly, even if that were true, China is not a powerless entity: governments have the ability to compel particular modes of behavior from corporate entities. Autocratic regimes like China's have a greater ability to do so than most other governments.

Frankly, I don't think "China" has any interests. I think different factions and individuals within the Chinese government have varied interests. Some of those interests involve helping the Chinese people but some involve maximizing personal profit. No one has claimed that the welfare of the Chinese people has not improved recently: the claim I'm making is that non-trivial improvements in air quality could have been produced at relatively low cost if the government and various corporations were interested in doing so. But the corporations were not and the government lacked the power or foresight or interest to compel them. What I'm saying is that one aspect of Chinese welfare (air quality) might easily have been improved, possibly at the expense of some other aspects (less cash for schools or corrupt officials, etc).

The challenges China faces, and even some of the solutions that have been imposed, are far beyond what we might have been able to do under similar circumstances.

Yes and no. China can impose some solutions that the US cannot because it is an autocratic regime. On the other hand, the reason that similar circumstances don't actually exist in the US is because the US government passed the Clean Air Act and then went about enforcing it. You might think that an autocratic government with no significant opposition to speak of could do something similar. After all, how much harder is the CAA than ordering in tanks to deal with students and their fantasies of democracy?

But comparing them to where they were twenty-five years ago, they have made amazing progress.

Has anyone argued otherwise? You seem to be having a very spirited argument with...no one that I can see.

By having the Olympics there, the world sees the Chinese hospitality (which is legion), culture (which is rich, and is being recultivated after the devastation of the cultural revolution), but also experiences some of the pain that we benefit from every time we buy a Chinese product.

I think this is more than a little ridiculous. What precisely is special about Chinese hospitality compared with Swedish hospitality or Zambian hospitality? Nothing of course. People are people the world over. And in any event, no one is going to learn a damn thing about the hospitality of Chinese people; all we're going to learn is that the Chinese government makes a show of "hospitality" (whatever the frack that even means) at staged athletic competitions when it believes that doing so will benefit it financially and improve its prestige. Just like most other governments on the planet.

As for culture, I doubt anyone will learn anything of significance. I've found that when I want to learn about foreign cultures, in general, getting my information from either an American television network or an athletic competition is a profoundly awful way to do it. I imagine that combining those spectacularly bad methods together will not readily improve their efficacy.

The idea that we might experience some of the pain is just a sick joke. We will experience no pain whatsoever. Air pollution is not transmitted over radio waves and through television sets. Americans will sit on their fat asses watching athletes compete with no pain whatsoever. I suppose the pollution might add an element of randomness to the competitions, but since I ascribe zero significance to who wins these contests, I don't really care about that either.

It reminds me of the environmental justice movement here - the poor live next to the factories; the rich forget what that's like. We're citizens of the world and need to know what our neighbors face.

I'm more than a little skeptical that there will be lots of TV coverage about how bad the air quality is. But even if such coverage did happen, how would that change anything? Do you really think American consumers will alter their purchasing patterns based on what they see?

I mean, the point of the environmental justice movement isn't for people to get information and then impotently do nothing. The point is to make society more just. How does staging a stupid athletic event in China help that goal?

China has struggled through a lot - western imperialism

Eastern too.

They've been guilty of their share, too. It's more than a bit rich for the Chinese to complain about Imperialism while trying to crush the ethnic identities of their own Tibetan and Uigur minorities.

Surely a factor in the decision is that the decision was made eight (?) years ago, a period of time long enough - think two presidential terms - for those involved to believe "Anything Is Possible."

I have no reason to doubt that when the Chinese, riding two decades of unprecedented economic and technological advance, told the IOC that they could solve the pollution problem by 2008, not only did the IOC believe it, but the Chinese themselves did.

Look at how often in the past Americans have convinced themselves that they/we could solve most of our energy problems in a similar period of time - overlooking the fact that to do so we would have to make tough decisions which (in the event) we were unwilling to do.

It's a bloody mess, but it isn't really much more stupid than many other political decisions we and the world have made. It's like a second marriage: the triumph of hope over experience.

This whipping back and forth between China as helpless victims and China as masters of the universe is a bit disorienting...

Maybe sending athletes there is a form of enhanced interrogation.

Turbulence, other than complaining that China, an industrializing nation which is going through what America and Europe went through in the 19th and early 20th century, isn't green enough, what do you think our policies should be? Should we boycott the Olympics? I'm suggesting that we deal with China in the spirit of comraderie and brother/sisterhood, attend their coming out party and then begin to 1) insist that our corporations and our trade policies foster environmental stewardship 2) make diplomatic efforts to encourage human rights advances 3) stop being hypocrits and uphold the rule of law and humane policies that are within our own control. We don't have China's history or its problems, but we have had similar things in our history. They have repressive policies towards Tibet, but arguably less horrific than our treatment of native Americans or other peoples whose lands we occupied and made our own. I'm not saying we shouldn't be trying, but other people who don't have the wealth that we have find it a bit jarring to be lectured by people who already have their piece of the pie and seem to constantly want seconds.

I'm sure you're correct in saying that there are many factions in the Chinese government and among the new wealthy Chinese. On one hand you argue that, but on the other hand you talk about how China can have a Clean Air Act because they're authoritarian. How much control do "they" have over corruption and greed and human nature within the government and among the business people who are there? I think that, just as everywhere, there are people who care about these things who are challenged by people who don't - and there's a power struggle. That's just as true in Houston.

All I'm saying is that I hope the Olympics go well, and that we can work with China in a spirit of global cooperation to solve problems that face us all. The United States is 5th in per capita carbon emissions; China is 80th. http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/env_co2_emi_percap-environment-co2-emissions-per-capita I don't think that bashing China for its industrial development and boycotting the Olympics because China is too icky is the way to go in improving China's environmental problems.

Dr. Ngo, I totally agree. I think that many in China are still very hopeful that they can make a better China, and they're actively trying to do that. That's why I don't think humiliating the Chinese is a great solution.

This whipping back and forth between China as helpless victims and China as masters of the universe is a bit disorienting...

Purely occidental, I'm sure.

Sapient, I don't think anyone is suggesting that there's anything at all to be done about the Olympics being held in Beijing now, the day before opening. I think the line of conversation is something more like: why on Earth did we ("we" being sort of an inclusive "they") deliberately choose one of the most polluted places on the planet to host an athletic competition in? I think they'd have been a lot better off building an entire venue from scratch, out in the middle of farm country. As it is, they can pray really hard for rain, because that's the only thing that's going to clean the air up any.

I'm guessing the swimming venue will be a bit better, if they have air conditioning. Still, not ideal.

Sorry for the rants then, Slartibartfast. I was treated very nicely when I was in Beijing, and the people there are excited about the Olympics, proud of the progress that they've made in the past couple of decades, and want to show their culture to the world community. I want the Olympics to end with people having a more favorable view of each other - I think that's all for the good. Obviously it's simplistic wishful thinking, but people like Turbulence, who seem to think that feeding and improving the lives of a population of over a billion people without causing environmental degradation is simply a matter of issuing an autocratic edict - that's also simplistic. (Not to mention the fact that they've had devastating earthquakes and so many other issues...I just think we should cut them a break.)

I'm suggesting that we deal with China in the spirit of comraderie and brother/sisterhood, attend their coming out party and then begin to...

What would be the drawback to doing this now, rather than arguably giving tacit support to the Chinese regime by attending "their coming out party"? You could weigh the potential benefits against the impact on the athletes, but surely the abuses of the current regime haven't taken anyone by surprise.

They have repressive policies towards Tibet, but arguably less horrific than our treatment of native Americans

That's a really horrid example. U.S. policy toward the native tribes can be (somewhat charitably) called disastrous, but by the same token it's never been coherent enough to be consistently repressive, nor anti-independence. Neither is true of China's treatment of Tibet, which is cruel and systematic as a matter of policy. Slavery would have been the arguably appropriate analogue.

Regardless, what's the argument here? The United States has done bad things before (some time ago, in the case of your example) and therefore shouldn't criticize any other country for human rights abuses?

or other peoples whose lands we occupied and made our own.

... Such as?

I think that, just as everywhere, there are people who care about these things who are challenged by people who don't - and there's a power struggle.

That doesn't speak to the question of whether the United States or the world community should tacitly endorse the regime by participating in the Games.

That's just as true in Houston.

Are you serious?

people like Turbulence, who seem to think that feeding and improving the lives of a population of over a billion people without causing environmental degradation is simply a matter of issuing an autocratic edict - that's also simplistic

I think you've misunderstood Turbulence. He and I frequently disagree, but I don't think he's saying what you think he's saying.

He does have a point: it should be easier for an autocratic government to control air quality. I don't think easier has ever been the point, though; I don't think they've particularly cared one way or another up until now, so they haven't taken any action. China detests black eyes, though, so something may happen as a result of this. I won't hold my breath, but I can hope.

I've spent some time in China, and if Beijing is worse than Wuhan (which I can completely believe), then you really don't want to be breathing there any more than you have to.

U.S. policy toward the native tribes can be (somewhat charitably) called disastrous, but by the same token it's never been coherent enough to be consistently repressive, nor anti-independence.

A rather surprising sentiment, because it then automatically fits into a framework of American exceptionalism, in that we didn't mean to hurt those Native Americans but the Chinese actually want to rule the world (Bwa-ha-ha!) Not something that I would expect from you, Turb.

I'm certainly not against putting pressure on China, but the world when the Olympics were granted to the China and the world now make it exceedingly difficult to pull out of the Games a few months before because of perceived progress on a field of constantly moving goalposts. To acknowledge that this might throw gas on the fire of Chinese nationalism is not some sort of moral failing, it is being realistic.

Slart notes:
it should be easier for an autocratic government to control air quality. I don't think easier has ever been the point, though; I don't think they've particularly cared one way or another up until now, so they haven't taken any action.

But the Olympics was granted to China because, I would argue, the country was 'maturing' (I don't like the implication of using that word, hence the quotation marks) We can cynically look at maturing as 'providing new markets for Western goods', and with a rising middle/upper class, the power of the autocracy ends up being focussed on the have-nots, hence beautification projects in Beijing that leave many homeless, but not a reduction on the use of motor vehicles (except as a last ditch effort a few weeks before the games) or enviromental standards for industry. To assign the blame for this on the Chinese government seems a bit perverse.

The strategy for dealing with China has evolved into one of trying to boost a consuming class that will then share values of Western consumers and put the brakes on the various bad tendencies of the country. I don't hold a lot of hope out for the strategy, but it is better than claiming that their culture prevents them from ever participating in global society. I would prefer a firmer hand, but I think it would have to be coupled with a helluva lot less hypocrisy from the West.

Adam, what do you mean by "tacit support to the Chinese regime" or "tacitly endorse"? Support for what? If we were hosting the Olympics, does that mean that all participating countries would "tacitly support" Guantanamo, or our invasion of Iraq, or that by visiting the Lincoln Memorial and praising the architecture, they'd be giving "tacit support" to Bush's environmental policies?

China's treatment of Tibet is absolutely analogous to our treatment of native Americans. Maybe the Chinese should kill most of the Tibetans and place those remaining on tiny reservations where they have "autonomy" but almost no natural resources and then everything will be okay? I'm not sure what your point is except that it's okay that we did it because it happened while we were industrializing and getting wealthier and we needed the space, but Chinese people don't really need bigger houses and cars or natural resources or ... because they're just as happy being poor and barely able to feed themselves?

You might educate yourself on Hawaii's separatist movement (http://www.hawaii-nation.org/) and read up on the United States's occupation and annexation of that state. It is but one example. If you're tempted to laugh about the separatist movement as wacky, your attitude is very similar to the Chinese attitude toward Tibet.

As to Houston - yeah, I think there are people in this country who care about the environment more than others, and the people who care often lose.

Sapient: It may be the case that the prudent thing is to mollycoddle China's fragile sense of self-esteem. But these athletes never consented to being pawns in this game. And it's unfair to ask them to bear the burden of it.

Sorry, I misattributed the Native American notion to Turb when it was Adam. Apologies.

I disagree that China isn't trying. They're trying to balance fast modernization with environmental planning.

See, e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eY4o3WzCfmM

Okay, well, I'm sorry that athletes find themselves in a polluted environment, although I don't think they're really "pawns". In fact, they did consent to compete in Beijing by training for the 2008 summer Olympics and going there. I admire athletes and understand the struggle of deciding to compete in the most important event of their lives under adverse circumstances but they did, in fact, decide, and the Olympics always has been and always will be fraught with political drama.

Turbulence, other than complaining that China, an industrializing nation which is going through what America and Europe went through in the 19th and early 20th century, isn't green enough, what do you think our policies should be? Should we boycott the Olympics?

I think the US should boycott all Olympics because I think the whole concept is stupid and pointless. But since we're not going to do that, I think the IOC should not select venues with unacceptable air quality or other environmental characteristics. I mean, would you have any problems if the the IOC selected a city where monsoons traditionally fell during the summer Olympic times? Wouldn't that be kind of, I don't know, stupid?

I'm suggesting that we deal with China in the spirit of comraderie and brother/sisterhood, attend their coming out party

I don't know what you're talking about. There is no party and we're not brothers and sisters. Pretending that these things are true doesn't make them so. The Chinese government is going to stage a sham sporting event, just like every other government does.

Look, regardless of what happens at the Olympics, Americans and Chinese are still going to trade heavily and invest in each other's countries. The two nations will still cooperate in foreign policy areas where their interests align and fail to cooperate in areas where their interests don't align. A sporting event will not change any of this.

and then begin to 1) insist that our corporations and our trade policies foster environmental stewardship

This is garbage. We can insist whatever we want, but insisting by itself will do nothing no matter what we do with the Olympics. How well has the Tibetan people's insistence worked out for them? If we are serious about the environment, then we need to impose some sort of financial penalty for importing goods produced using supply chains that have not been certified as meeting acceptable environmental standards. Pretty words and happy feelings won't do a damn thing.

2) make diplomatic efforts to encourage human rights advances

Shouldn't we do this no matter what? What does this have to do with the Olympics?

3) stop being hypocrits and uphold the rule of law and humane policies that are within our own control

What does this have to do with China? Shouldn't we be working to uphold the rule of law regardless of what happens in other nations?

I'm not saying we shouldn't be trying, but other people who don't have the wealth that we have find it a bit jarring to be lectured by people who already have their piece of the pie and seem to constantly want seconds.

Look, for whatever reason, Beijing's air quality is extremely poor. Telling them that they don't get to host an Olympics because their environment is completely unsuitable isn't lecturing them. Cities close to the poles also can't hold summer Olympics and there's no lecturing there either.

Now, I happen to know people who design and build power plants and industrial air pollution control equipment. These people have done a fair bit of business in China and their experience has been that the Chinese government has shown little interest in air pollution control measures, even when the cost is relatively small (compared to the cost of building a new power plant). So I do feel inclined to lecture a country whose economy grows at 10% annually but is unwilling to take 2% increase in its power cost. I think that sort of thing is incredibly short sighted. It would be one thing if I were talking about incredibly expensive remediation technology, but this stuff is fairly inexpensive.

I'm sure you're correct in saying that there are many factions in the Chinese government and among the new wealthy Chinese. On one hand you argue that, but on the other hand you talk about how China can have a Clean Air Act because they're authoritarian. How much control do "they" have over corruption and greed and human nature within the government and among the business people who are there?

Look, if you're running an autocracy where you have the ability to shoot demonstrators and kill dissidents on a whim but you also lack the power to enforce emissions control regulations...then I think you're doing it wrong. In my eyes, the US has a barely functional political system and yet we've managed to pass and enforce the CAA.

And really now, Chinese society has thousands of years of experience dealing with these problems. Corrupt officials are hardly a new phenomena.

I think that, just as everywhere, there are people who care about these things who are challenged by people who don't - and there's a power struggle. That's just as true in Houston.

Sure it is. But the air quality in Houston is a heck of a lot better than in Beijing. And given the costs involved, one reason for that discrepancy is that Chinese leaders (government and corporate, although they're often the same) prioritized small profit increases over air quality.

All I'm saying is that I hope the Olympics go well and that we can work with China in a spirit of global cooperation to solve problems that face us all.

I don't really care about a stupid sporting event or a delusional fantasy about the "spirit of global cooperation". Nations act in their own interests and the spirit of global cooperation isn't really relevant to what happens in the real world.

The United States is 5th in per capita carbon emissions; China is 80th. I don't think that bashing China for its industrial development and boycotting the Olympics because China is too icky is the way to go in improving China's environmental problems.

I'm not bashing China for industrial development. I'm bashing China for failing to deploy air pollution control technology that is cost effective. I don't know why you're talking about CO2; that is clearly not the problem for Beijing's air quality. And I don't begrudge China and other developing nations higher CO2 emissions anyway.

it's unfair to ask them to bear the burden of it

This probably meant something differently than what I read, but air pollution isn't going to keep many athletes from competing. They might not like it much, but they'd like missing an Olympics rather a lot less.

To be clear, I don't think we should back out of the Olympics. But I do think selecting a city with such crappy air quality was really really stupid.

I tell you what: since it is so vitally important to showcase Chinese hospitality and culture, why don't we hold the Olympics in Taipei? I mean, the Chinese government keeps saying that Taiwan has always been, is now, and always will be part of China, so Taipei should be fine, right?

It should be fine, unless the main point of holding the Olympics in China is to puff up the ego of Chinese leaders who mistake themselves for the state.

He does have a point: it should be easier for an autocratic government to control air quality. I don't think easier has ever been the point, though; I don't think they've particularly cared one way or another up until now, so they haven't taken any action. China detests black eyes, though, so something may happen as a result of this. I won't hold my breath, but I can hope.

Thanks for explaining me better than I did Slarti. I appreciate it.

A rather surprising sentiment, because it then automatically fits into a framework of American exceptionalism, in that we didn't mean to hurt those Native Americans but the Chinese actually want to rule the world (Bwa-ha-ha!) Not something that I would expect from you, Turb.

Turb didn't say that, I did, and I'm quite willing to defend it if you've got a specific objection -- I like to think that my grasp of the history of the topic is pretty solid. I do agree that the narrative of American exceptionalism doesn't adequately explain policy toward the native tribes going in either direction.

Here's the kind of djini that has been let out.

And this one reminds me of that phrase 'the customer is always right', specficially all those Chinese wanting to buy Nike shoes and MJ jerseys.

Adam, my specific objection is that you seem to argue that the incoherency of our Native American policy lets the US off the hook or at least mitigates the guilt in a substantial way. Yet our policy of assimilation (and that seems to be the coherent underpinning of our policies and has been a hallmark of every effort in dealing with Native Americans, by forcing them to make choices thru the administration of tribal rolls, cordoning off those who would not assimilate, and utilizing the legal system to undermine any potential claims they have) has been even more harmful to the cultural heritage. Because of the notion of the USSR as being a collective, the indigenous cultures in the former Soviet Union survived much better into the 90's than Native American cultures. Sapient's example of the Hawaiian separatist movement is another good example of the blind spot. In saying that we didn't have a coherent policy, fails to explain things like the ongoing BIA scandal.

Perhaps we are better because a small clique of people didn't decide to stick it to the Native Americans, it just happened, but the distance between them and us seems a lot smaller to me than it does to you.

It is amusing to hear people in the US complaining about Chinese pollution. You financed it. You in fact demanded it. You buy Chinese goods because they are a little cheaper than goods from other countries. One of the reasons the goods are cheaper is that producers in China are not required to pay for the externalities they cause. So we all get to talk about how wonderful free trade is, you get to save a few dollars, your pet gets to eat poisonous pet food, your kid gets to play with toys painted with lead paint, China becomes an environmental wreck, and the only time it bothers you is when it affects your little sports festival.

I am playing the world's tiniest violin.

After the kids are done playing their games, the winners will capitalize on their success by becoming handsomely paid spokespersons for Western companies that run polluting factories in China using slave labor to manufacture cheap sports equipment and other goods for rich Americans. They'll get rich, the Western companies will get rich, Americans get to keep buying cheap crap they don't need. The pollution will get worse, but, again, the only time anyone cares about that is when athletes from rich countries have to breathe in what they helped create.

I hope we all choke.

liberal japonicus, I saw that Washington Post blog, and was very interested in the comments. Making symbolic gestures in support of various causes without taking account how the gestures will be received seems kind of ridiculous to me. Building good will between the people of China and the people of the United States, and leaving the politics to the diplomats (for now anyway) seems to me to be a more effective way to influence policy. I'm all for a less polluted China, and for Tibetans to be able to preserve their lifestyle and cultural heritage. But China resents meddling, and the way to encourage change is through our economic interdependence - first insisting that our own corporations doing business there adhere to certain standards.

China's treatment of Tibet is absolutely analogous to our treatment of native Americans. Maybe the Chinese should kill most of the Tibetans and place those remaining on tiny reservations where they have "autonomy" but almost no natural resources and then everything will be okay?

That's an absurd argument. You're begging the question of whether the American government ever had an official policy of "killing" native peoples, which they didn't. You're glossing the question of "our" treatment (speak for yourself, Kemosabe) of the native tribes, which has passed through a number of different permutations over the centuries but which has never been actively hostile. You're also attacking a strawman by arguing that "then everything will be okay" as if someone was trying to justify the way natives have been treated in America, which no one was -- on the contrary, you're the only one who was equating the two.

What you did say was that (a) Chinese policy toward Tibet was somehow analogous toward the United States' treatment of the native tribes, which is nonsense, and that (b) that deprives the U.S. and other countries of the moral authority to object to China's human rights record, which is also nonsense. Feel free to clarify your initial position if you'd like.

I'm not sure what your point is except that it's okay that we did it because it happened while we were industrializing and getting wealthier and we needed the space, but Chinese people don't really need bigger houses and cars or natural resources or ... because they're just as happy being poor and barely able to feed themselves?

I didn't say any of those things; I said it was a ludicrous equivalence, which it is. You're the one trying to argue that the two situations are similar or that I think that they are.

You might educate yourself on Hawaii's separatist movement (http://www.hawaii-nation.org/) and read up on the United States's occupation and annexation of that state. It is but one example. If you're tempted to laugh about the separatist movement as wacky, your attitude is very similar to the Chinese attitude toward Tibet.

How interesting. I am somewhat familiar with Hawaii's history -- is that an example of one of the "other" peoples you claimed had been subjugated by the U.S., and if so is your argument that native Hawaiians don't count as "native Americans"?

Regardless, I don't recall "laughing" about the any separatist movements, but again -- if you feel that the history of U.S. policy toward Hawaii has been similarly brutal as Chinese policy toward Tibet, your understanding of one or both histories is grossly inadequate.

As to Houston - yeah, I think there are people in this country who care about the environment more than others, and the people who care often lose.

Oh, so you only meant to say that there are "power struggles" in both Houston and China -- not that they were equivalent?

If you're going to lower the analytic bar to the point where you're equating Houston's government with China's, then your point is so universally true that it's trivial. That equivalence is so lazy that it erases any sort of meaningful distinction for discussion.

first insisting that our own corporations doing business there adhere to certain standards

What does this even mean? Who should do this insisting? And why should anyone listen? Are there any cases where a policy consisting solely of "insisting" ever accomplished anything like this?

which has passed through a number of different permutations over the centuries but which has never been actively hostile.

If you added 'in living memory', you'd be ok, but juxtaposing centuries with that is really a wild swing. Or are you trying to beat the Houston-China equivalency?

Adam: please review the presidency of Andrew Jackson - never actively hostile? Indian Removal Act? And yes, lots of policies towards native Americans throughout our history. Lots of policies towards Tibet throughout Chinese history. And no, I didn't say that Hawaiians aren't native Americans - I'm not sure how that's relevant. I do think that the fact that President Clinton signed a resolution apologizing for the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy is relevant to the discussion of whether we've overthrown sovereign countries.

Turbulence: yes, the United States has regulatory power over our own corporations, even when they do business elsewhere, and we can refuse to allow products manufactured under certain conditions. We have labor laws and can have treaties "insisting" on labor standards in other countries. The Japanese require China to adhere to certain quality standards and insist on having Japanese inspectors in China to see what's being manufactured before it comes into Japan. We could "insist" on the same thing - it's called regulation, something that's gone out of style in the past eight or more years. Sorry to be vague, but sitting in my living room after work, I'm not going to write the regulation - go look in the Code of Federal Regulations, and you'll see many examples, which could be incorporated into treaties and trade agreements or enforced on any corporation who does business in the United States.


Adam, my specific objection is that you seem to argue that the incoherency of our Native American policy lets the US off the hook or at least mitigates the guilt in a substantial way.

Oh no -- not at all. It certainly doesn't let the government off the hook. It's a travesty and a national shame. But, as you say, US government policy toward the natives has been nothing if not universally incoherent, and it seems to me that protesting it has never done much good for that reason -- it's been driven more by incompetence than by malice.

The Chinese government's policy toward Tibet, on the other hand, has not been at all incoherent and has been nothing but malicious. The outcomes in both case have been universally bad, but to say that the policies are somehow equivalent is an astonishing oversimplification.

Yet our policy of assimilation (and that seems to be the coherent underpinning of our policies and has been a hallmark of every effort in dealing with Native Americans, by forcing them to make choices thru the administration of tribal rolls, cordoning off those who would not assimilate, and utilizing the legal system to undermine any potential claims they have) has been even more harmful to the cultural heritage.

Again, that's a significant generalization about BIA/Native policy and doesn't justify the moral equivalence to China's Tibet policy.

And while it's certainly possible to see "assimilation" as a common these, I find it difficult to look at the termination policy that ended the Klamath tribe and the missionary activities in the Southwest some time ago and argue that they were the result of a cohesive extermination policy, though the purported goal in both cases was "assimilation."

Regardless, I also don't think that modern Chinese policy toward Tibet is analogous to even the most egregious U.S. policies toward natives (termination is probably the worst example) is really driven by "assimilation" in any realistic sense of the word -- and certainly not in the same sense as U.S. policy toward natives was.

Because of the notion of the USSR as being a collective, the indigenous cultures in the former Soviet Union survived much better into the 90's than Native American cultures.

I am not sure I buy that precise argument, but there may be something in there regarding how Chinese nationalism has affected policy toward Tibet, and that may serve as something of an explanation. But likewise, I think that's still another reason why equating the two seriously distorts the facts.

Sapient's example of the Hawaiian separatist movement is another good example of the blind spot.

To be perfectly clear, I'm not arguing that there isn't a blind spot or that the U.S.' hands are clean in this regard -- I am saying that the way the U.S. government has treated, say, Hawaiian separatists isn't remotely similar to the way that the the Chinese government has treated Tibetan separatists, both as a matter of policy and as a matter of real-world effects. And it's really not even close.

In saying that we didn't have a coherent policy, fails to explain things like the ongoing BIA scandal.

I don't think that there really is a good explanation of the fact that the BIA has pretty much never worked. In fact, if you look at the history of BIA administrators, it's astonishing how they've managed to adopt such a wide array of policies ranging from condescension to thinly-veiled racism (and to turn on a dime between Presidents) while still achieving results that have been equally poor no matter what.

Sapient, I'm glad to see that when you write the word "insist", you really mean "require, by law". You will forgive me for not assuming that equality originally, given that your comments are filled with such airy and fantastic elements as the spirit of global cooperation which will apparently solve all sorts of problems. I trust you appreciate that you could have been more specific (say, by using the word "regulation") without necessarily citing specific entries from the US Code.

Do we really even need regulation though? Won't the spirit of global cooperation be enough?

I can think of one difference between the US' genocide of Native peoples and whatever it is that China is doing with Tibetans and Uighers. We got our ethnic cleansing in before international law came to look down on ethnic cleansing. That doesn't make it right: what the US did was an abomination. But it does mean that I don't feel too guilty for condemning Chinese aggression. Perhaps if China were not an economic powerhouse, there would be more pressure from the international community.

Norms change over time. Transnational institutions and legal norms develop where once none existed. Consequently, sometimes doing the same essential act at different points in history may legitimately earn one condemnation or praise from the rest of the world. That may seem unfair, and it is in a way, but it is also perfectly consistent. Things change.

Adam: please review the presidency of Andrew Jackson - never actively hostile?

Jackson was a huge racist, but no, that was not government policy, and no, it was not actively hostile, it was obstructionist. The presence of racists at the head of the government is not "policy" -- and, no, the way that Jackson and some members of Congress acted almost 200 years is still not analogous to the way China currently acts toward Tibet, nor is it a reason to draw a moral equivalence between the U.S. and China.

Again, you would have been better off hanging your hat on slavery -- which was written into the Constitution and supported by numerous acts of Congress, court decisions, and a civil war.

Indian Removal Act?

You mean the Act that was invalidated by the Supreme Court in Worcester?

And yes, lots of policies towards native Americans throughout our history.

"Lots"? The only other unambiguously negative policies that come readily to mind are termination and the Winters Doctrine, and the former wasn't hostile, though it was misguided. I'm curious to know your definition of "lots," because those limited examples do not even begin to compare to Chinese policy toward Tibet -- or even Taiwan, for that matter.

Again, your reading of history is so broad and so undifferentiated that it's totally meaningless.

And no, I didn't say that Hawaiians aren't native Americans - I'm not sure how that's relevant.

You said that the United States had subjugated multiple native peoples throughout its history (besides native tribes on the continent), and I asked you for examples, and you didn't give any. If the Hawaiian tribes don't count, then I assume you were just making stuff up to prove the rhetorical point.

I do think that the fact that President Clinton signed a resolution apologizing for the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy is relevant to the discussion of whether we've overthrown sovereign countries.

Sounds to me like an important distinction between U.S. policy toward native tribes and Chinese policy toward Tibet. It also sounds like a reason why those policies should actively resisted rather than equated to totally dissimilar acts in the history of other nations as an excuse for inaction.

Turbulence, I would never suggest relying solely on the spirit of global cooperation as the means to solve the world's problems. I am a lawyer in my mid-50's, and I believe that people and governments mostly act in their own self-interest. However, it's easier to approach problems in the spirit of collegiality rather than adversity. Settling yields better results than litigation: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/08/business/08law.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

Actually, rather than go any deeper down this particular rabbit hole, I'm just doing to back up -- the earlier point was that it's not appropriate to silently support the Chinese government, regardless of whether the Olympics do so. Sapients response was that the U.S. has no grounds to object because government policy has been to kill "native American" tribes, and that this is "just like" Houston. Both of those statements are unbelievably untrue and demonstrably false. If you'd like to change the claim, that's OK, but at least have the guts to admit that the initial equivalency was absurd on its face.

Adam, the Clinton resolution came a century later, and means little to those who wish to be separate, since Hawaii is still a state, and we aren't about to give the island back to the separatists. It's a concession that we invaded and forcibly took over a sovereign nation - and imposed our will upon it.

By the way, you've talked about how you think China is malevolent, and the United States never has been, but what should China do about Tibet, and should the United States give Hawaii back to the separatists?

And with that, I'm going to bed rather than dancing around the posting rules any further.

"I don't think that there really is a good explanation of the fact that the BIA has pretty much never worked."

All single explanations are reductionist, but the word "racism" does wander into view of my eye, wave, and wander on again.

"By the way, you've talked about how you think China is malevolent, and the United States never has been,"

Could you link to the comment Adam allegedly asserted that, and quote the words, please? I fear I missed it. Thanks!

Adam, you should do commercials for John McCain - you're excellent at taking my statements out of context. But insofar as "silently supporting the Chinese government", is it silently supporting them to:

Study in China?
Buy Chinese goods at Walmart?
Visit the Great Wall?
Invite an exchange student to your home?
Read a Chinese poem?
Study the Red Book?

Is it silent support of the Chinese government to mind my own business and fail to write letters protesting their environmental policies and policies towards Tibet?

Is it silent support of American abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo that I continue to live in the United States? Drive a car? Participate in the legal system?

I'm not sure what to do about Tibet, but trashing China at this moment isn't going to help - that I am sure of.

Gary Farber, I was reacting to statements like "U.S. policy toward the native tribes can be (somewhat charitably) called disastrous, but by the same token it's never been coherent enough to be consistently repressive, nor anti-independence. Neither is true of China's treatment of Tibet, which is cruel and systematic as a matter of policy. Slavery would have been the arguably appropriate analogue."

I'm too tired tonight to argue this further - there are no two historical situations exactly alike, and if Adam or others don't accept the analogy, that's fine with me. China and Tibet have had a long history, and China's policies toward Tibet have been horrifying (not unlike many of China's policies towards its own people). I guess Adam thinks that we shouldn't be participating in the games, or should protest human rights abuses while we're there. I certainly think that putting diplomatic pressure on China regarding Tibet is a good thing, but doing it in connection with the Olympics, and trashing their country because it's too stinky, would be counterproductive.

I'm really interested in the discussion, so, as a favor to me, could we turn it down from 11?

Turb's point about norms changing is a good one, but that brings up the question, why do norms change in a way that always seems to favor Western nations? This isn't to claim that we toss out the notion of evolving norms, but Tibet was invaded at a historical point in time when China was even more insecure than it is now, and the situation has evolved into one where it is difficult to imagine the Chinese making any steps back. So I am pretty sure that the specific step of boycotting the Olympics would only be to establish the West's moral bona fides rather than actually being a practical step towards a more enlightened Tibet policy.

Adam, you suggest that the Klamath termination is evidence of varied motivations in the notion of assimilation, but the Klamath (as well as the Menominee and the other smaller tribes) terminations were disasters for the tribes involved, so I'm not sure how it plugs into your point.

Also, every nation state takes a very dim view of challenges to its legitimacy, and I don't see all that big a difference between the French in Algeria and Vietnam and the Chinese in Tibet. You may object and say I am expanding the field when you are specifically talking about the US, but I tend to think that the moral superiority of the US is only the result of an accident of geography rather than any kind of thoughtfulness and understanding.

why do norms change in a way that always seems to favor Western nations?

I don't think they do. But I do think the enforcement of those norms tends to favor the powerful. In that sense, China has benefited handsomely. Because of its economic power, it gets a free ride that less powerful nations couldn't get away with. I mean, compare China and Israel's behavior and then compare the amount of international criticism. If Israel were manufacturer to the world, it might get treated more like China does.

I don't see all that big a difference between the French in Algeria and Vietnam and the Chinese in Tibet.

Nor do I. They seem awfully similar. But note the differences: when the French were in Algeria, there was enough external pressure and support to eventually dislodge the French. That does not seem to be the case regarding Tibet.

Again, you would have been better off hanging your hat on slavery -- which was written into the Constitution and supported by numerous acts of Congress, court decisions, and a civil war.

I'm guessing that you didn't meant to say that we had a civil war to support slavery. Were we fighting over which states were bigger advocates of slavery?

Probably all just a peculiarity of phrasing, I'm guessing.

I don't see all that big a difference between the French in Algeria and Vietnam and the Chinese in Tibet

Really? Tell me more about how France and Vietnam share a border, and about how at various points in time over the last millenium or two, parts of France have repeatedly been ruled by Vietnam and parts of Vietnam have repeatedly been ruled by France, and occasionally parts of both countries have simultaneously ruled by a third nation. Tell me more about how Vietnam was populated a thousand years ago partly by immigrants from France. Tell me more about the rich natural resources and strategic geographical location that Tibet enjoys that played a role in China's decision to take over the country again.

Britain's role in Tibet over the last century is not all that different from France's role in Vietnam. China? A different story.

Yes, should have been "led to a civil war" or something to that effect, thanks.

More on the rest later.

now_what,
I was referring to the way uprisings in those Algeria and Vietnam were suppressed in the post war era, specifically the Sétif massacre in Algeria and Son La prison in Vietnam

With a domestic parallel of the Paris Massacre of 61 to Tiananmen Square.

I suspect your violin playing is having you miss out on important bits of the discussion.

Dear Turbulence: I trust you are well.

I'll comment on this remark of yours: "when the French were in Algeria, there was enought external pressure and support to eventually dislodge the French. That does not seem to be the case regarding Tibet."

Hmmmm, what happened in Algeria might have had a very different outcome if, say, during the reign of Napoleon III, France had deliberately settle MILLIONS of French people there. With the aim of turning Algeria into a thoroughly Westernized and Frenchified territory.

That is, after all, exactly what the Peking regime has been doing the last thirty years or so in Tibet. Flooding that country with millions of Han Chinese with the deliberate goal of forcibly Sinicizing Tibet. From the viewpoint of the cruel and autocratic regime in Peking, what better way of crushing pro independence sentiments there than by hopelessly outnumbering the Tibetans with Han Chinese settlers?

After about thirty years of this colonizing of Tibet with Han Chinese, I suppect the native Tibetans are doomed to become nothing more than quaint ethnic types who dress up in "tribal" attire and put on shows for the mostly Chinese tourists. Sad.

Btw, this is not the first time China has dominated or ruled Tibet. The Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1912) of China also controlled Tibet. Altho, to be fair, that earlier period of foreign rule was not much more than a loose protectorate, with the Dalai Lama retaining a good deal of internal autonomy.

Sincerely, Sean

Nice post. Btw did u know that the ancient Olympics captured the imaginations of the Greeks for more than a millennium until a Christianized Rome put a stop on the competitions in the fourth century AD. But the Olympic ideal did not die. Anyways which country do u think shall win the maximum gold medals?

I was just complaining today what an incomprehensible choice Beijing was - the pollution, the bad publicity. Do you think there's still bribery going on and that's how China got selected?

"Somehow, I expect people to compromise on the symbolism of siting the Olympics in a country with serious human rights violations. At least that doesn't actually harm anyone directly...."


Right, aside from the 1.5 million displaced Chinese.

So, just to be clear: I do not much care for China's policy on human rights generally, or Tibet in particular. (Nor, for that matter, Xinjiang.) I also loathe US policy towards Native Americans, especially during the 19th century, and have precisely no wish to defend it.

That said, my point in this post was much, much smaller. It wasn't to ask why the Olympics are being held in a repressive country. Everything I said would have been perfectly consistent with holding it in a relatively unpolluted part of China.

It was just: cripes, these athletes only get one chance at the Olympics every four years. It means the world to them. The IOC deliberately chose to site the Olympics in a city which is so polluted that it can endanger their health. That's just wrong.

The IOC could have said to Beijing: get your pollution down to acceptable levels, and then you can host the Olympics. It could have said to China: hey, propose some other less polluted site. In either case, I might be into an argument about whether the Olympics should be held in a repressive country. But my point was much smaller, and (I think) antecedent to that: surely the Olympics should be held in a country that is not downright dangerous to the athletes.

Two quick points:

1. Let's all remember that History's Greatest Monster, Jimmy Carter, had the strength of will to boycott the Olympics held in the Soviet Union in 1976, while Mr. Freedom, George W. Bush, has talked the talk while refusing to walk the walk yet again.

2. I find Sean M. Brooks' comment interesting insofar as, if you just ever-so-slightly rejiggered it, and replaced the words "China" and "Tibet" with "Israel" and "Palestine," he'd find himself on the exact opposite side of whatever argument he's making.

Happy Friday!

Sapient,

The "profit" that multinational corporations get goes into the pockets of people from around the world (very little of it in China).

If that were true then how do you explain the rapid growth of Chinese foreign assets?

According to Brad Setser, "China´s government currently manages between $2.3 and $2.4 trillion in foreign assets". He estimates that China added around $785 billion to its foreign portfolio over the last 12 months (June 2007 to June 2008).
The People´s Bank of China, the Chinese Central Bank, alone now has foreign exchange reserves of more than $1.8 trillion. Up 35% from June 2007.

That´s quite a lot of money, isn´t it?

Sapient: "By the way, you've talked about how you think China is malevolent, and the United States never has been,"

Me: "Could you link to the comment Adam allegedly asserted that, and quote the words, please? I fear I missed it. Thanks!"

"Gary Farber, I was reacting to statements like"

Ah. In other words, Adam wrote nothing of the kind, and you imagined it. Okay. Thanks for clarifying. I presume you thought your version was a fair rewrite of what he said: it wasn't remotely. That part about "and the United States never has been [malevolent],": imaginary.

"I guess Adam thinks"

Not a good approach: I suggest setting aside guessing, and stick to asking, and responding to actual responses, rather than ones you guess about and rewrite in your head.

"I'm guessing that you didn't meant to say that we had a civil war to support slavery."

We had a civil war over the South's seceding in order to preserve and expand slavery.

Of course we did, Gary. I don't think either Adam or I are saying otherwise.

And on the day Russia invaded neighboring Georgia, the 2008 Olympics began . . .

China, Russia -- let Communist ideals reign!

"Hmmmm, what happened in Algeria might have had a very different outcome if, say, during the reign of Napoleon III, France had deliberately settle MILLIONS of French people there. With the aim of turning Algeria into a thoroughly Westernized and Frenchified territory."

This is just funny. You might want to make your point about China without making reference to the Algerian conflict. France came close to a civil war when they pulled out of Algeria precisely because one million Frenchmen lived in Algeria and regarded Algeria as part of France.

Detlef, Yes, thanks, I overstated that, and for all other posters who took me to task on sloppy language, inaccurate analogies, etc., I take all of your points. Also, I concede to Hilzoy that, in future, the Olympic Committee should hold the games in pristine environments to protect the health of the athletes.

I still believe, no matter how vaguely, that:

1. It's probably a good thing that citizens of countries who partake in the wealth created by globalization also have the opportunity to witness in the destruction caused by manufacturing on the cheap - the environmental neglect, cheap labor, etc. Most of the U.S. athletes probably have benefited (in the short run) from some of these policies. And, since the people of Beijing live their whole lives there, it's doubtful that the athletes who spend a week there will permanently endanger their health.

2. China shares blame for its environmental problems with the multinational businesses that operate there, and other governments who don't "insist" on (i.e., regulate) businesses and enter trade agreements that protect the environment. Holding our nose (or wearing masks) while visiting Beijing is merely insulting and not effective in curtailing environmental degradation.

3. Polite cultural exchange is one way to encourage favorable and mutually beneficial social, economic and diplomatic relationships. Perhaps this is just a "feel good" belief on my part, but since the Olympics is a "feel good" event, it's the perfect time to try "feel good" politics (as opposed to being a rude guest).

4. The situation in Tibet is more complicated than simply that the Chinese regime is evil and does horrible things to Tibetans. Although we can agree that the policy towards Tibet has been cruel to the people and to the culture, the historical context of the relationship to Tibet, the strife in China during all of the 20th century, the imperialism of the Soviet Union and the stuggles of the Cold War, the United States's role in Southeast Asia (and in support of the Dalai Lama) - all of these things are relevant to the issue and merely telling China to "leave Tibet alone!" is certainly simplistic and naive. Again, not that we shouldn't be supporting Tibet, but a bad relationship with China wouldn't be the place to start.

5. The United States would be in a better position to complain about the rest of the world if it would observe international law itself. It would also help to acknowledge that the wealth of the United States (as the wealth of most countries) was created partially on the backs of unwilling people or people who suffered without reaping the rewards. This is not to say that we should cheer China on in abusing Tibet and exploiting its own people and ruining its environment. But the arrogant lecturing and finger pointing should stop in favor of real policies of political and economic leverage.

Gary at 8:40

In Sapient's defense, I'm having a little trouble understanding Adam's objection to the China/Tibet US/Native American analogy--he thinks the "moral equivalence" claim is utterly beyond the pale. (Alarm bells go off for me whenever someone starts complaining about somebody else's moral equivalence.) Yet somehow Native Americans lost most of their territory. I think his point is that in theory, the US government did not have malevolent intentions, but apparently given how things turned out, the US government's intentions had very little connection with what actually happened.

I find his point wrongheaded for two reasons. First, taking the example of the Cherokee removal, the Supreme Court opposed the removal of the Cherokees, but Andrew Jackson favored it. So are we to conclude that the US government had nothing to do with it, and therefore it's silly to compare China to 19th Century America?

And more generally, even if the Federal government did have good intentions in many cases, they don't seem to have been able to put them into practice. I don't think this means we can't compare China's behavior to 19th Century America--it just means that the villains in 19th century America weren't necessarily in the Federal government. That was true in California, for instance, where it was the state government that sanctioned genocide.

I'd say that mid 19th century California was worse than modern China, but maybe the Federal government was better. Glad to have straightened that out.

I sympathize with hilzoy--her post was simply about the idiocy of holding an enormous athletic event in an incredibly polluted environment. Total agreement here. Though I wonder if it has happened before--they've had it in Tokyo, Los Angeles, and other places.

Mexico City was another place where the same problem occurred, when, coupled with the altitude, caused many athletes problems, though I don't think there was the awareness of air pollution that there is now. In another parallel, there was the Tlatelolco massacre which I noticed when checking out Wikipedia. Plus ça change.

I also didn't realize that the equestrian events were being held in Hong Kong because Beijing was not certified as free of equine diseases.

Finally, DJ's last point is a good one, and my apologies if for my part in expanding the point beyond what hilzoy had in mind.

Let's all remember that History's Greatest Monster, Jimmy Carter, had the strength of will to boycott the Olympics held in the Soviet Union in 1976, while Mr. Freedom, George W. Bush, has talked the talk while refusing to walk the walk yet again.

Of course, the Soviets didn't hold billions of dollars worth of our debt, either. I'm certainly no fan of the current occupant of the White House, but a boycott was never in the cards this time around.

Let's all remember that History's Greatest Monster, Jimmy Carter, had the strength of will to boycott the Olympics held in the Soviet Union in 1976

(1980, ackshelly)

Dear Donald: Thanks for your comments.

I disagree with you statement about the one million Frenchmen in Algeria whose protests at France's letting go of Algeria came close to provoking civil war in France. Not because it wasn't true, but becaused you missed the point.

Fremch rule of Algeria began in 1830 when that former Barbary pirate state. BUT, France never deliberately flooded the country with French people the way Peking has done Tibet. A mere one million French in Algeria after a 120 years of French rule was NOT enough to tip the demographic, ethnic, cultural, religious, and political balance in Algeria DECISIVELY in the direction of Westernization. Result, Algeria today might well be called SOUTHERN France.

I mentioned Napoleon III because,if France had decided to deliberately settle Algeria with hundreds of thoussnds or millions of French in his reign, then 80 or 100 years might have been more than enough time for these colonists and their descendants to Frenchify Algeria. Which is exactly what Peking has been doing to Tibet.

Sincerely, Sean

DJ, this in particular was the paragraph that I was disagreeing with:

Sapient:

We don't have China's history or its problems, but we have had similar things in our history. They have repressive policies towards Tibet, but arguably less horrific than our treatment of native Americans or other peoples whose lands we occupied and made our own.
We may have had "similar things in our history," but to my mind slavery is the example that stands out, because it was intertwined with specific repression by the federal government, much like China's policy toward to be.

China's current "repressive policies towards [sic] Tibet," however, are by no stretch of the imagination "arguably less horrific than our [again, who's 'our'?] treatment of native Americans or other peoples [again, which others?] whose lands we occupied and made our own."

Perhaps I'm wrong in reading a moral equivalency into the phrase "less horrific than" in that paragraph, but it seems straightforward to me.

However, moral issues notwithstanding, the claim is also simply untrue -- unless "our" is defined so broadly (i.e., as something beyond the actual policy of the federal government of the United States, which is the sole actor in the government qualified to treat with the native tribal governments) that this becomes a meaningless point.

The fact that some subordinate units of the U.S. government or putative citizens of the United States were racists or dealt illegally or incompetently with the native peoples has practically no logical connection with the Chinese government's specific policies repressing Tibet.

**"policy toward Tibet" in the first paragraph.

Sean, I've certainly read that China is "flooding" Tibet with Han Chinese, but do we really know how many are there and whether Tibetan culture is diminishing? After all, Tibetans who live in Tibetan areas of Qinghai have managed to keep a fairly solid ethnic identity despite everything. Again, I'm not apologizing for repressive policies of China and don't for a minute doubt extreme, deplorable, human rights abuses, but I also don't necessarily trust the objectivity of what I've read. Tibetan terrain and altitudes are such that it wouldn't necessarily be a hospitable place to "flood". I know there is immigration and building going on, and that the face of the cities there are changing, and that there has been some resettlement, so it is definitely going on. But to what extent?

Also, the morality of Chinese intent has been discussed in this conversation, but from what I've read, Chinese people (some, at least) believe that integrating Tibet into China and spreading their industry and wealth will improve Tibetan standard of living and save them from illiteracy. I don't agree with them that Tibetans need "saving" in this way, but I can imagine that Chinese people sincerely believe it.

I'm bringing this up not to take China's side in any way. But trying to encourage Tibetan autonomy in a way that doesn't threaten China's security concerns seems to be the best way to solve the problem between China and Tibet. (Again, don't know if there is any such solution that would actually be possible.)

Hilzoy, you wrote:

So, just to be clear: I do not much care for China's policy on human rights generally, or Tibet in particular. (Nor, for that matter, Xinjiang.) I also loathe US policy towards Native Americans, especially during the 19th century, and have precisely no wish to defend it.

That said, my point in this post was much, much smaller. It wasn't to ask why the Olympics are being held in a repressive country. Everything I said would have been perfectly consistent with holding it in a relatively unpolluted part of China.

It was just: cripes, these athletes only get one chance at the Olympics every four years. It means the world to them. The IOC deliberately chose to site the Olympics in a city which is so polluted that it can endanger their health. That's just wrong.

I wonder if the two aren't more linked than you seem to think. China and the Olympic Committee were making a political point about China--that China was modern enough to get the Olympics, and powerful enough to get it on its own terms (meaning without needing to really even have the appearance of being nicer in Tibet and by holding it in its capital city). The fact that the Olympic Committee did not insist on a lower-smog city is a manifestation of the same impulse that let them think the ongoing pervasive human rights violations weren't a big enough deal.

I have my own point-of-view about what that impulse is, which people here probably wouldn't agree with (and I'm not super-sure about anyway). But whatever the actual impulse actually is, I strongly suspect it is almost the same reasons why ongoing, widespread, and very serious human rights violations could be ignored (see also the recent dustup about internet access where it appears that the Olympics Organizers knew all along that there would be serious censorship, but lied about until the last moment).

Adam you worry about my use of the word "our" as in "unless 'our' is defined so broadly (i.e., as something beyond the actual policy of the federal government of the United States, which is the sole actor in the government qualified to treat with the native tribal governments) that this becomes a meaningless point."

I disagree that the "actual policy of the federal government of the United States" is the only relevant issue here. Do we know what the "actual policy of the PRC" is with regard to Tibet? From what I've read, the actual policy of China toward Tibet is to promote wealth and literacy in the Tibetan autonomous region, and to mine the natural resources of China, of which Tibet is a part. The Dalai Lama is considered to be someone who will subvert the loyalty of the Tibetan people, so their policy is also to prohibit signs of allegiance to him. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL34445.pdf

I don't claim to be an expert on native American affairs, and my philosophical view is that since the human race has been invading, conquering, extinguishing and replacing cultures since time began, it is unlikely to stop.

It seems to me (maybe I'm misreading) that you're putting China's treatment of Tibet into a moral category different from that of the United States and the native peoples (including Hawaiians) whose lands and culture was taken from them. I just don't see the moral difference. It didn't happen by accident in the United States, and the federal government didn't stop it from happening. Moreover, recent actions of the United States to preserve its perceived self-interest seem equally morally repugnant. The invasion of Iraq and subsequent war, for example, caused the death of millions, and decimated several precarious ethnic minority populations. It's certainly not the official policy of the United States to do such things, but what difference does it make when the actions of the government, or organized efforts of American people accomplish that result?

Variously:

1) On the historical/moral question, I've got to side with Sapient here. I've studied (and taught) a good deal of comparative history, and the general comparison between how the US dealt with Indians and how China deals with its minorities is a solid one. See also Australia with the aborigines.

Lots of fine-tuning differences are possible - that's what makes comparative history fun! - but there are also general rules for the game. One is that you can compare rhetoric (stated intentions) with rhetoric OR outcomes with outcomes, but you can't meaningfully compare rhetoric with outcomes.

So as Sapient pointed out, China's official "policy" towards Tibet is at least as benevolent as ours toward the Native Americans. And the actual effects of their policies seem to be pretty much as bad as ours. You just can't say "But we didn't mean to destroy them [based on our rhetoric] but China does [based on how we interpret their outcomes]." Not fair.

The big difference, of course, is that most of the greatest evils we - and the Australians - committed were a century or two ago, whereas China's continue to the present. That's indeed a problem. But given all the other historical factors involved, it still doesn't put us all that firmly on the moral High Ground. ("I am an alcoholic, but I've been going to meetings for a year now. *You* are a disgusting drunk.")

2) On the less-polluted question of pollution, I note again that the Olympics are awarded seven years in advance (I mistakenly said eight before). There were certainly grave concerns in the international community about the smog in Los Angeles when the 1984 games were awarded to them in 1977 (?), at least as grave as those about Beijing in 2001.

In the event, LA continued to clean up its air (from when I grew up there in the 1950s and 1960s) over the intervening years and the Games went pretty well, though many athletes still complained. (E.g., Steve Ovett, who has asthma or something like it, was seriously affected in his best events.)

Beijing appears not to have done so well. (But see This contrarian view for a more hopeful perspective.)

The dilemma is that once the Games are given to a city, and the preparations are in hand, it becomes awfully difficult to pull the plug. It was talked about in the run-up to Athens 2004, because they were running so far behind on the structures and infrastructures, but it would be devastating to the Olympic movement were it to happen.

And boycotts, alas, do not work. Carter had better reason in 1980 than anyone has in 2008 (since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a new development, not because of general USSR dreadfulness), but he's about the only one who still defends his/our choice. And of course that led to the Soviet Bloc boycotting LA in 1984, which gave us more medals (whee!!) but undermined the value and validity of the games.


I've been pretty cynical about these Olympics.

But watching the Opening Ceremonies w/ my wife last night, I was taken in by the beauty, the togetherness of the athletes, the whole Olympic ideal of peace and goodwill.

Then again, while all this pageantry was going on inside the stadium, we all know it's not a shining democracy going on outside it.

Human rights violations, clamp-downs on free speech and protesting, etc.

Is putting all that "aside" worth shining a light on China, the Chinese people and the world's third-largest economy?

what dr ngo said.

The only other thing I have to add is that the Olympics are primarily symbolic in purpose and intent, and I thought that part of the purpose in siting these games in Beijing was to honor the culture and civilization of China, not just the state which currently administrates the cradle thereof, or all of the policies of that state.

As an ardent and longstanding sinophile, and one who in all likelihood will never have the economic means or opportunity to actually travel to China, I approve of that decision and plan on enjoying watching these games without the burden of unrealistic expectations about how if things had been done differently they could have been used to make some sort of point about Tibet, air pollution, industrialization, modernity, Western capitalism, or as they used to say: "the price of tea in China", and in way which no other Olympic Games (of the modern era) has ever managed to accomplish.

TLTIABQ: in way which no other Olympic Games (of the modern era) has ever managed to accomplish.

Not to dispute this directly, but you're probably too young to appreciate the impact of Tokyo 1964. Less than twenty years after the devastation of Japan (including the firebombing of the city itself) and the first Olympic Games held outside the Euro-American sphere, it had every opportunity to prove a fiasco. Instead it was a triumph, and Japan found itself universally acclaimed as "modern" in every sense - heralding, some would say, the Asian Century.

Meanwhile, don't give up your hope of traveling to China someday. It's a big place, it's been there a long time, it'll be around when you're ready!

Dear Sapient: I trust you are well.

Thanks for your note. I tried to respond, but my earler comments got caught in the spam filter. So I'll try again.

Frankly, I disagree with you because you seem to miss the most basic and brutally elementary fact in the relationship between China and Tibet. That is, in 1951 Mao sent in his army to CONQUER Tibet. And that wsa made nakedly plain in 1959 when China CRUSHED the Tibetan uprising.

You mentioned China's "security" concerns about Tibet. I absolutely disagree because a country as remote and inward looking as Tibet has NEVER been a threat to China. The invaders or conquerors of China have almost always come from the north or northwest. E.g., the Mongols.

And the reason why Peking has been deliberately settling millions of Han Chinese in Tibet since the 1970s has been to make the conquest PERMANENT by absorbing the Tibetans into the Han Chinese. And, of course, make any further attempts like that of 1959 of throwing off Chinse rule impossible.

Last, I would put some stress on the thuggish nature of the current regime in Peking. Recall how that regime persecutes religious believers like the Catholics and Falun Gong (hope I got the name right), political dissenters, Internet browsers, and all others who annoy it. Let's not kid ourselves into thinking the Peking regime is not, in fact, a cruel and nasty gov't.

Sincerely, Sean

Sean, I appreciate your thoughtful comment, and have enjoyed the level of discussion on this thread despite my disagreement with some of the people posting.

I am not here to suggest that the Chinese government is benevolent, although I do think that the possibility exists for democratization and respect for human rights in China. But that's beside the point. The Qing dynasty exercised imperial control over Tibet, and there was prior history of Chinese control over Tibet, so to say that the history of Chinese control over Tibet began in 1950 is a bit shallow. During the 20th century, China fought a civil war with a movement that had CIA backing and the CIA also backed the Dalai Lama - giving China every reason to have a nervous attitude toward having him in power there. The various superpowers exercised hegemony over satellite countries (and that legacy remains, witness Georgia). It's certainly understandable that China wouldn't want a US ally next door, but would want to use Tibet as a buffer zone.

But no matter what we want to accept as China's legitimate interest in Tibet, I guess the question is what hurts and what helps Tibetan people maintain a peaceful existence and retain their ethnic heritage? I don't think bashing China's efforts to present itself as a spectacular Olympic host helps at all. Do you? If so, how?

Dear Sapient. I hope you are well.

Thanks for your latest note. I would correct you a bit by pointing out I knew the current domination of Tibet by China was not the first time that has happened. I knew the Ch'ing Dynasty also controlled Tibt. But, my view is that earlier period of Chinese rule was far less harsh than that of the Maoist regime today. Under the Ch'ing the Dalai Lama retained a good deal of internal autonomy.

I had not known the US had made attempts to support an independent Tibet. Too bad they failed. Probably inevitably, tho. Tibet is simply too remote and far away for the US to effectively assist. To say nothing of how Tibet lacked the kind of modern infrastructure needed to make such outside help workable.

And my view remains that China is trying to ABSORB the Tibetan people into the Han Chinese by settling Tibet with millions of Chinese.

Sincerely, Sean

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad