Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 01:34 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 01:34 | SYDNEY

Post-Olympic China

30 October 2008 13:30

Guest blogger: Alistair Thornton is a Beijing-based economic analyst.

The re-emergence of swarms of elderly couples ballroom dancing to europop in public squares signals that, two months on, normalcy has pretty much returned to Beijing. So, have the Olympics been the force for positive change in China that some thought they might be, and others thought they would never be?

Well, in the relatively short time since the end of the Games, a number of positive developments have taken place. Arrangements for foreign press freedoms granted during the Olympics have recently been extended, rather than left to expire. Traffic restrictions that made such an impact on the city’s pollution levels are being continued (albeit slightly watered down). Plans for universal healthcare by 2020 have been announced, with the government expecting 90% of the population to be covered within two years. And perhaps most significantly, the government has announced rural land reforms, allowing the trading of land that was previously allocated by local government, aiming to improve agricultural productivity and narrow the inequality between the rural and urban populations.

But although the Olympics appears to have acted as a catalyst in some of these cases, the changes seem to me little out of the ordinary when viewed in the wider context of the trends that China has experienced 0ver the past 30 years. In that time, the government has implemented gradual, yet substantive, reforms that have lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, dramatically increased personal freedoms, and vastly improved access to education and healthcare.

That is not to say that no problems remain. The past few months have seen controversies surrounding shoddy schools, ‘protest’ parks, tainted milk and more. But viewed in its entirety, the trend is overwhelmingly positive. As Australia's Ambassador to Beijing, Dr Geoff Raby, stressed in his recent Lowy talk, China today is almost immeasurably better off than the China of 30 years ago. And now the Olympics are over, and the international spotlight is off China, the positive trends continue.

Aside from being a massive boost to national pride, what the Olympics certainly will do is come to symbolise China’s re-ascension to great power status. And as Doug Paal of Carnegie points out, isn’t it rather nice that China marked its re-emergence onto the world stage by hosting an international sporting event, rather than invading a sovereign country and annexing territory?

Photo by Flickr user VinCross, used under a Creative Commons license.