China’s Olympic dreams

China Vitae Many of us in the media have spilled a lot of ink about the Beijing Olympics, and a great deal of it has been critical. But what is the Chinese view? I spoke Thursday morning with Amb. Wu Jianmin, a longtime Chinese diplomat who served as China’s ambassador to the United Nations until ...

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China Vitae

China Vitae

Many of us in the media have spilled a lot of ink about the Beijing Olympics, and a great deal of it has been critical. But what is the Chinese view?

I spoke Thursday morning with Amb. Wu Jianmin, a longtime Chinese diplomat who served as China’s ambassador to the United Nations until 1998. Since 2003, he has been president of China Foreign Affairs University, where his mission is training the next generation of Chinese diplomats.

 

Foreign Policy: We’ve seen a lot of analysis in the Western press about China’s hopes for these games. As a Chinese diplomat, what’s your view? How does China want the world to see the Olympics?

Wu Jianmin: Two things. First, we want the world to get this message: The Olympics belong to the whole world. The first Olympic Games were held in 1896, and most Olympics were held in developed countries. It wasn’t until Mexico in 1968 that the Olympic Games were held a developing country. Today, they will be held in the largest developing country: China. It’s great. We hope in the future that the Olympics will move further into the developing world.

Second, we hope that visitors who come to China will go away with the impression that China is a peaceful, civilized, and progressive nation.

FP: When the decision was announced in 2001, a lot of people said that China wouldn’t be able to do it — whether it was because of political issues, international criticism, infrastructure, or pollution. Now that the games are about to start, what do you think Chinese officials are most worried about going wrong during the games themselves?

WJ: All Olympic Games in the past have had problems of one kind or another. So for us, we are quite prepared to deal with all kinds of problems. The number one problem is terrorists, and apart from that there might be some other issues that might come up. But we are quite sure that the Olympic Games will be a success. That success is not only Chinese, but will be the success of the whole world. At the beginning of 2001, people outside of China had a whole lot of worries, but today the facts are there to show that China has kept her promises. We did our best to meet the challenges, to meet the requests, of the International Olympic Committee.

FP: Amnesty International, you may have seen, issued a report saying that Chinese officials have “broken their promise to improve the country’s human rights situation and betrayed the core values of the Olympics.” Do you think that this is a fair charge, and how would you respond to that?

WJ: No, it’s not fair. This is just one opinion. But you know, the world is so large and there are many other opinions. I think in China, everybody can see that we did our utmost to fulfill our promises.

FP: Experts tell us that China has done pretty much everything it can possibly do to bring air pollution levels down in Beijing, and now it’s up to the weather. But China has a lot of environmental problems outside of its capital city, especially with water quality in rural areas, and those aren’t getting the same kind of Olympic effort. What do you think its going to take to bring the “Olympic spirit” outside of Beijing?

WJ: I think the Olympic spirit will spread throughout China. For instance, you mentioned the quality of water. This is a very serious issue. Our surveys show that about 320 Chinese million peasants do not have access to clean drinking water. It’s a very serious problem and the target is to solve it within a few years, because we Chinese are bound to stay here. We can’t move to other places in the world. When our environment is degraded, everyone suffers, so we are serious about that.

FP: I’m sure that you’re going to be watching the games closely. Are you going to any events?

WJ: Yes, I am going to go to the opening ceremonies. I am very excited about it. It’s the first time in China!

FP: Do you think that China is going to beat the United States in the medal count?

WJ: Even though the team leader of the U.S. says that, I am not sure. Maybe that is his strategy: Keep a low profile and raise expectations about China. Maybe the Chinese team will actually feel more pressure because of that.

FP: If China does win the most medals, how do you think the world will react? Do you think the world will see China as a threat, as some people have speculated?

WJ: No. The Olympics is a sporting event. You may have many medals this time and the next time you don’t have as many medals. Don’t exaggerate! Sports is sports. “If you get a lot of medals, you are a threat. If you get fewer medals, no more threat.” It sounds ridiculous!

FP: Who is your favorite Chinese athlete?

WJ: I think our table tennis players are pretty good. They are very smart; they are also working very hard at training. They do whatever they can to improve their performance. I admire their courage and their persistence.

FP: What do you think is the biggest misperception that Westerners have about China, and what are your hopes for the Olympics changing that perception?

WJ: Some Western people perceive China as a threat, because in the past, when countries were rising, it was always detrimental to others. We all remember what happened with the rise of the colonial powers. They believe that China will behave in that way, but that’s wrong because of two things. First, peace and harmony are important parts of Chinese culture. Culture determines people’s mentality, and people’s mentality determines people’s actions and behavior.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Zheng He’s expeditions in the 15th century. Eighty years before Christopher Columbus discovered the new continent, He had the largest fleet in the world, with more than 60 vessels. And each vessel’s capacity was about 1,000 seamen. We had the most advanced ship technology, but we did not use this advantage to invade other countries. That was decided by Chinese culture. Today, that Chinese culture is still there.

The second thing they overlook is Chinese policy. We stick to the peaceful development path. That means no expansion, no hegemony, no alliances. We put “win-win” at the center of international strategy because we believe that in a globalized world, only with win-win and a two-way street will our cooperation with the outside world be lasting. With a one-way street — should China seek unilateral benefits — our cooperation would not last. That may be good for China for just a few moments, but it would not last. We don’t want that. We want to have sustainable, lasting cooperation with the outside world.

We want the outside world to see this — that when they go away from Olympics, they believe that China is a peaceful, civilized, and progressive nation.

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