Monday, May 19, 2008

Is China Opening Up A Little As Olympics Approach?

Written On M.S. Prinsendam, Approaching Malaga, Spain--

The International Herald Tribune this morning carries a fascinating article by Philip Taubman headlined, "Watching China and remembering glasnost." (This probably also appeared in the New York Times, which owns and operates the Herald Tribune).

In it, Taubman analyzes the signs that, with the Beijing Olympics approaching, and under the pressure of events in the Sichuan earthquake, Tibet, Burma, The Sudan, Zimbabwe and elsewhere, China may be opening up a little and even altering its foreign policies.

Taubman begins: "A dash of openness can be a dangerous thing in an autocratic state. Mikhail Gorbachev discovered this two decades ago when his campaign to inject some daylight into Soviet society doubled back on him like a heat-seeking missile.

"Now China's leaders are playing with the same volatile political chemistry as they give their own citizens and the world an unexpectedly vivid look at the earthquake devastation in the nation's southwest regions."

Taubman goes on to observe, "While China's response to its natural catastrophe is certainly more humane (than the Burmese junta's), and is only a small step toward openness, it could set in motion political forces that might, over time, be unsettling."

It is so like American journalism that no matter what happens, reporters always seem to be able to find a dark lining in the sunlight.

The fact is, that China's rulers have taken several steps lately that indicate they have been listening to world opinion and that they crave a good reputation, at least during the Olympic period, but perhaps also beyond.

After bitching and screaming for weeks about world reporting and popular reaction to the Tibetan uprisings, China agreed to meet with representatives of the Dalai Lama, who is initially blamed for the trouble.

After sending an arms ship to Zimbabwe in support of the tyrant Robert Mugabe, the Chinese withdrew the vessel without delivering the arms. It's true that South African dockworkers refused to unload the cargo for transshipment, and it was also turned away in Angola, but, still, the Chinese did desist without pressuring others, like Mozambique, to transship the arms.

In Burma, sketchy reports indicate the Chinese have urged the junta to be more accepting of foreign aid to cope with the deaths and destruction caused by the recent cyclone.

It may be too early to assume there's a trend, but at least these are positive steps, and, I believe, should be welcomed
worldwide. Yes, Gorbachev's "glasnost and peristroika" ended with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Communist system, but this was not all bad, and, I think, Chinese unity may prove more durable than Soviet unity did.

--

In another terrific article this morning, Janny Scott, now with the New York Times and formerly a talented member of the L.A. Times staff, gives the intriguing details of how Sen. Barack Obama wrote and sold two books which helped launch his political career, and made him a fortune.

It's obvious that if Obama does become president of the United States, major books will one day be written how he pulled off a meteoric rise which is reminiscent of Lincoln and other leaders who climbed out of poverty and obscurity to positions of great power. Scott's recounting thus is only a start, but it is a good start.

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