The Times – Olympic Games show China through a glass, darkly<br/> As the opening approaches, preparations reflect a disturbing side of the communist regime, by Jonathan Fenby (the China director at the research service Trusted Sources)

[U]nwittingly, the Olympics also reflect the downside of China’s hectic growth story and contain reminders of the nature of the regime that presides over the world’s last big communist state. This combination of progress and faultlines makes the Games an intriguing mirror of the state of China today at a time when it is becoming an increasingly important player in global affairs.

News yesterday that foreign journalists have found access blocked to websites with content that China dislikes is the latest in a series of restrictions that the Beijing authorities have introduced before the Olympics. A curfew has been slapped on bars; entertainers must submit scripts for advance approval; three rings of security checks have been thrown round the capital. Sites have been set aside for demonstrations, well away from sporting sites, and participants will have to get permission beforehand.

After official reports of terrorist plans by Muslim autonomists in the Xinjiang region of western China – which at least some observers are taking with a pinch of salt – people from that area are being shipped out of Beijing. While desultory talks are being held with representatives of the Dalai Lama, Beijing has in no way modified its insistence that Tibet is an integral part of China, and the Communist Party secretary there continues to take a hard line. China’s cyber-police have been combing websites for material that they consider subversive, and arresting dissidents and human rights activists. How wide the net extends was shown by the detention of a lawyer wanting to represent the parents of children buried alive in school buildings in the Sichuan earthquake.

This is not a surprise. China badly needs the Games to be a success, and its natural inclination is to stamp on anything and anybody that might interfere, even if it leads to the “no-fun Olympics”.

Etc, etc.

The 2008 Games will be held under the slogan “One World, One Dream”. As was only to be expected, the world and the dream will be defined by China. Hopes that the Olympics would change the People’s Republic have been shown up as an illusion, just as the idea that economic progress would bring multiparty democracy on Western lines to China has been exploded by reality. The International Olympic Committee probably calculates that it has no alternative but to go along with all this. Now, as the Games reflect broader issues in China, the question is whether the IOC stands as a mirror for foreign governments’ dealings with Beijing.

Indeed.

I think it’s going to be a disaster and the Chinese people are going to go nuts on foreigners who they think have intentionally humiliated China. Either that or it’ll go completely smoothly and then in a decade or so we’ll be hearing, in the context of future Olympic games, stories that mention, in passing, things like, “Unlike at the Beijing Olympics 16 years ago where such and such was the case” and we’ll all go, “Wha?!” Or it’ll be fine and completely uneventful except for when the entire marathon team drop dead mid-race from smoke inhalation.

Update:

BBC – Russia hit by doping suspensions

Seven Russian athletes have been provisionally suspended for doping offences, the International Association of Athletics Federations has announced.

Ahh, it’s like old times.