Saturday, May 3, 2008

Olympics Already a Failure?

It's 96 days 'till the Beijing Olympics, and people are already assessing the event's success or failure. This week, I met a scholar from a Chinese university who was in town for a conference. He said the Beijing Olympics were "already a failure" because: the Chinese have been embarrassed by the pro-Tibet protests around the world; European governments may not attend the opening ceremony; athletes are bringing their own food to the Games (as if China has no suitable food); and, interestingly, the Chinese people have been misled by their government in that they supported a hard line position toward Tibet but now China is going to talk with the Dalai Lama. He also said the Olympics will have an oppressive atmosphere due to the high level of security measures needed to thwart any terrorist plot--most likely Uygur, he and other senior Chinese sources have told me. Finally, he noted that young Chinese people are creating a new social memory in which China is a victim of Western oppression but the "nationalist" element is thin or shallow. I agree that the phrase "rise of nationalism" isn't helpful or even accurate.

But I don't necessarily agree that it is time to call the Olympics a failure, although I have pointed to the risks associated with it, including at a Tokyo conference six months ago where I said:

Pollution is one risk: Perhaps the performance of athletes will suffer as a result of poor air quality. Or a discomfiting story related to environmental degradation could embarrass the Chinese. The government may not be prepared to respond to critical questions from foreign journalists, nor to their own citizens disseminating controversial information over the Internet. Activists are already planning protests with respect to human rights, the environment, and civil liberties to correspond with the international attention the Olympics will draw to Beijing. Protests might be violently quelled, begging more questions about China’s human rights record.

As political scientist Ian Bremmer recently put it: “Even if police are able to maintain order in Beijing, can they extend that control across the country? Can they manage the flow of information and ideas through the blogosphere as online activists open yet another front in their battle for free information?”

What to make of the Olympics now? We are going to explore the ethical issues in depth at the Carnegie Council in New York City on May 16:

This Workshop for Ethics in Business luncheon panel will focus on the ethics of engagement with China in the context of the Olympics. What have companies learned in the process of assessing their engagement with China? How do companies respond to civil society demands while tapping the Chinese market? What is a company's moral responsibility when operating in China?

Bard College scholar Ian Buruma will speak about the international relations case for engagement with countries such as China. General Electric VP of Corporate Citizenship Bob Corcoran will explore the role of multinational corporations in promoting human rights, using the Olympics as a case study. What has GE learned from balancing business and civil society demands? Counsellor Qi Qianjin of the Chinese Mission to the UN will relate the Chinese government's experience with the Olympics so far. Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch will discuss her new book, China's Great Leap: The Beijing Games and Olympian Human Rights Challenges. Former International Herald Tribune journalist Thomas Crampton will join the panel via video from Hong Kong.

This event is part of the Carnegie Council's Workshop for Ethics in Business, sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton's strategy+business magazine. Support also comes from Eli Lilly and New York University's Center for Global Affairs.

Join us for what promises to be a fascinating and important dialog. Or check it out on the Carnegie Council YouTube channel later.

The luncheon cost is $50 (fee can be waived for students, academics, and nonprofit professionals), $30 for Carnegie Council members. Please send your RSVP and payment info to:

Photo by california cowgirl1.

1 comment:

Don said...


May I suggest a link related to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games?

Our site:

Title: Beijing Olympics

Please let me know if you want a link back.
Many thanks for your reply.

Best Regards,