With barely six months left for the Beijing Olympics, China has had to cope with the first significant political protest when Hollywood director Steven Spielberg ended his association with the games as an art adviser last week. Spielberg cited China’s reluctance to leverage its influence with the government of Sudan to end what western campaigners call the genocide in Darfur region.
Having attached so much national prestige to the Olympics, which is to showcase China’s rise to power, Beijing has become acutely vulnerable to a range of political protests and international pressures.The Chinese leadership has invested considerable diplomatic capital to preempt the kind of opposition that led to the western boycott of the Moscow Olympics at the height of the Cold War in 1980.
Western leaders, including US President George W. Bush, have promised not to undermine the Beijing Olympics. Western activists, however, have no such obligation.
Olympic Dream for Darfur, a US-based organisation set up to pressure China into helping end the bloodshed in the western Sudanese region, has unveiled plans to target the international torch relay for the Beijing Olympics.
China, which is one of the closest political and economic partners of the Sudanese government, has come under intense and sustained international criticism for not doing more to stop the years of civil conflict in Darfur.
China has regretted Spielberg’s decision and rejected the charge that it has not done enough in Darfur. Beijing points to its active role in the United Nations Security Council on the Darfur issue and its facilitation of an international peacekeeping force there.
Among the other issues that activists hope to highlight are China’s controversial rule in Tibet, its reluctance to grant full religious freedoms, and its repression of the Falungong sect.
Chinese officials are angry at what they call the ‘politicisation’ of the games. The truth, however, is that it has never been possible to insulate the Olympics from international high politics.
Hollywood, which is in the forefront of the Darfur campaign, is having another kind of trouble with Beijing. Chinese officials are apparently demanding a change in the script of a big Hollywood film called Shanghai, whose shooting was expected shortly in China. Shanghai is about an American who investigates his friend’s death during the Japanese occupation of the city during the Second World War.
It is believed that Hollywood’s latest China crisis is about the scenes in the script that show opium use among Chinese. Beijing is extremely sensitive about any negative portrayal of its people. This is not the first time that Beijing has asked movie-makers to rewrite the script. Oscar winning director Ang Lee recently said he had to edit his highly successful film Lust, Caution, also set in World War II-era Japanese-occupied Shanghai, so that the main character would appear less of a traitor to the Chinese cause.
In January 2007, the United States had mounted massive criticism of the unannounced Chinese test of an anti-satellite weapon. Now it is the turn of Beijing to attack Washington for its plans to shoot down a malfunctioning satellite that is hurtling towards the earth.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, said the Chinese government was deeply concerned about the US plan. Russia has joined China in protesting against the US move. Russian analysts have interpreted the American move as an attempt to test its own space weapons. Washington, however, insists that unlike China, which deliberately destroyed the satellite in outer space, it will be intercepting the satellite just before it enters the atmosphere.
US military officials say the bus-sized satellite is carrying a fuel called hydrazine that could injure or even kill people who are near it when it hits the ground. The spy satellite, called US 193, is likely to hit Earth during the first week of March. About half of the 5,000-pound spacecraft would be expected to survive the fall and would scatter debris over several hundred miles.
The writer is professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore email@example.com
The Indian Express