Will the earthquake save the Olympics?

China Photos/Getty Images The Olympic torch reached Shanghai today where the relay was accompanied by a moment of silence observed by over 80,000 people for victims of the Sichuan earthquake. Among those carrying the flame were emergency services workers who had participated in the rescue effort. Shanghai’s mayor Han Zheng noted the new symbolism of ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
594911_080523_china_812141842.jpg
594911_080523_china_812141842.jpg

China Photos/Getty Images

The Olympic torch reached Shanghai today where the relay was accompanied by a moment of silence observed by over 80,000 people for victims of the Sichuan earthquake. Among those carrying the flame were emergency services workers who had participated in the rescue effort. Shanghai's mayor Han Zheng noted the new symbolism of the relay:

"When torchbearers pass the flame, it's not just the Olympic spirit they are passing, but also the confidence and courage with which the people of Shanghai join hands with the victims of the quake to rebuild their beautiful homelands."

China Photos/Getty Images

The Olympic torch reached Shanghai today where the relay was accompanied by a moment of silence observed by over 80,000 people for victims of the Sichuan earthquake. Among those carrying the flame were emergency services workers who had participated in the rescue effort. Shanghai’s mayor Han Zheng noted the new symbolism of the relay:

“When torchbearers pass the flame, it’s not just the Olympic spirit they are passing, but also the confidence and courage with which the people of Shanghai join hands with the victims of the quake to rebuild their beautiful homelands.”

Last month, the torch relay was overwhelmingly viewed as a fiasco, marred by protests until organizers were actually hiding the flame from onlookers.  Now, of course, the symbolism has changed significantly. What was once a massive moving target for international protests over China’s human rights crimes, is now being portrayed (Western media included) as a symbol of China’s resilience in the face of catastrophe.

The international sympathy for China brought on by the earthquake may fade by the time the Olympics start, (It’s not as if Tibet or Darfur have suddenly disappeared.) but I would still expect to see China invoking the tragedy quite a bit during the games. Supporting the earthquake recovery may even give “cover” to international leaders who want to attend the games but were afraid of appearing to condone China’s policies.

Until two weeks ago, the mounting protests made it look like China’s international coming-out party was sure to be an embarassing debacle. China’s new, more sympathetic narrative may just save the Beijing games from disaster.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.