International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge is asking the world to stop bothering China on issues such as human rights. “You don’t obtain anything in China with a loud voice,” he said in an interview appearing Friday on the website of the Financial Times. “That is the big mistake of people in the west wanting to add their views. To keep face is of paramount importance. All the Chinese specialists will tell you that only one thing works-respectful, quiet but firm discussion.”
Really? Rogge, echoing the view of China’s Communist Party as carried in People’s Daily, was speaking in the context of protests that for more than a month have dogged the Olympic torch relay, starting with the flame-lighting ceremony in Greece. He raises the broader issue: How should the world deal with China today?
It is true that China will change on its own. The Chinese people are in the midst of the process of both shedding their self-image as outsiders and ending their traditional role as adversaries of the existing global order. There is unimaginable societal change at unheard of speed thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of China’s 1.5 billion or so restless souls. They are making a “kinetic dash into the future” without so much as a roadmap or compass. If there is any cause for optimism in the world today, it is that the Chinese people are aware, assertive, and confident.
But they are not yet in charge. Unfortunately for them, nine men in blue suits and red ties sit at the apex of political power on the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee. These modern autocrats, more than anyone else, are standing in the way of transformation of the Chinese nation.
They have been able to do so and stay in power because they have been ruthlessly pragmatic. They, like all successful leaders, can be flexible when they must. In other words, they react to pressure. As Arthur Waldron has been pointing out recently, they just bowed to global sentiment by agreeing to talk to representatives of the Dalai Lama. And almost universal African defiance of Beijing’s wishes has forced China’s leaders to give up their attempt to deliver arms to the repugnant Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
So if we want China to change now–and not years from now when it will be too late–the world has no choice but to convince the country’s leaders that the price of resistance is too high. Rogge is right insofar as he notes that the Chinese are concerned about world opinion. When the international community has been united in the past, Beijing has almost invariably modified its behavior. So if we want those nine Chinese autocrats to change their abhorrent policies and practices of today, we must give them no choice at this moment but to do the right thing.