Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 16:23 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 16:23 | SYDNEY

Should we want the Beijing Games to fail?


Sam Roggeveen


4 August 2008 10:41

George Packer says 'yes':

I know we’re supposed to say nice things about China as a rising power and welcome it to the world stage because anything else inflames Chinese nationalism. But the Chinese leadership wants to have it both ways: quick to criticize President Bush for interfering in China’s sovereign affairs when he had the decency to meet Chinese dissidents this week, but eager to cash in on all the geo-political benefits that the Olympics will bring. China didn’t even bother to abstain last month but instead vetoed sanctions against Robert Mugabe at the U.N. Unlike Germany in 1936, China is prettifying its streets without pretending to prettify its foreign policy.

James Fallows says 'no':

...the only thing that will happen if these Olympics somehow go bad is a concerted focusing of blame, inside China, on the foreigners who want to "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people" and hold China down. Outsiders who think that a pollution emergency or a spiraling protest would focus domestic blame on the Chinese government are dreaming.

The metrics are pretty vague here, as 'failure' can mean many things and have many degrees, but let's assume we'll recognise failure when we see it. The question is: what costs and benefits would a failed Games bring?

Benefits first: post-Beijing fiasco, the US and its allies might benefit from a dimunition in China's soft power. A shambolic Games mired in controversy over human rights and censorship of foreign journalists might also lead the rest of the world to see China in a more realistic light. It might even cause the Chinese Government to reflect on the wisdom of its authoritarianism and institute liberal reforms. And finally, those who feel a certain antipathy to China and its authoritarian government will get a great deal of satisfaction from a failed Olympics. 

As to costs, Fallows argues that a failed Olympics would not lead to Chinese reflection and reform but Chinese resentment against the world. An embittered China would be harder to deal with than an open and satisfied one. It might also convince China that liberalisation is precisely the wrong path for China, leading to a reversal of some moves toward more political pluralism. The only other cost I can think of is that a failed Beijing Games would be a severe blow to the IOC, but that actually seems like it might be a benefit.