Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Olympic Chutzpah

You have to hand it to the "new China." Whether it involves trade, environmental conditions, or even diplomacy, they have raised the bar on the art of promise-anything-deliver-nothing; and now they seem to be extending that art to include making the International Olympic Committee look like complete idiots. Mure Dickie filed this report from Beijing for the Financial Times in rather more polite language:

China is to maintain its censorship of overseas websites even for journalists covering the Beijing Olympics, undermining earlier claims by the International Olympic Committee that international media would enjoy unfettered internet access during the Games.

Beijing routinely blocks access to thousands of overseas websites considered politically or socially suspect as part of a sprawling and secretive internet censorship system. However, the government had been widely expected to offer unfiltered internet access to the more than 20,000 journalists covering the Games, which open on August 8.

Jacques Rogge, IOC head, this month cited free internet access as an achievement of his "silent diplomacy" with Chinese officials.

“For the first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China. There will be no censorship on the internet,” Mr Rogge said in an interview with AFP.

However, the Beijing Games organising committee (Bocog) insisted on Wednesday that it had never promised full freedom. “During Games-time we will provide sufficient and convenient internet access,” Sun Weide, Bocog spokesman, said.

Bocog was already providing “sufficient” access, Mr Sun said, even though journalists have complained about blocks on overseas websites such as that of Amnesty International, a human rights group that this week issued a report on preparations for the Games.

There is an award-winning quality to the way in which China has managed to maintain its own characteristic brand of business-as-usual, while giving the appearance of honoring all the commitments that the IOC felt would be in the best global interests of an Olympic gathering. The best I can manage, of course, is a Chutzpah of the Week award. Given the emphasis of "face" in the Chinese approach to conduct and given that China has now pretty much demolished any sense of "face" that the IOC brought to arranging the Games that will shortly begin, I would say that such demolition is as good an instance of chutzpah as we are likely to find. So, whatever medals its athletes should win, China itself can now enjoy a Chutzpah of the Week award as part of the Olympic celebrations!

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