Yesterday's opening ceremonies of the Olympics seem to be receiving nothing but rave reviews today. Personally, I enjoyed them, too, even if most of the artistic portion struck me as pretty much the same thing as Broadway, Disney or Bollywood musicals that I don't like very much, only on a scale 50 times larger. A bit cloying for my tastes. Then again, the older I get, the more I seem to like those musicals, but I digress...
What I did like, and what I usually like about the Olympic opening ceremonies, is the march of nations. Yesterday's was just as spectacular and enjoyable as any I can remember:
Before the ceremonies, I was generally of the view that, because of its environmental degradation, internal human right's and worker's right's abuses, it should not have been awarded the Olympics games. However, watching the march of nations, it became clear to me why hosting the Olympics was so important to China, and why there really isn't a good argument to deny them these games. Concerning the former, it is pretty obvious that having the world's greatest athletes, along with many of the world's leaders, make a pilgrimage to your country is a remarkable honor--and certification of recent progress--for a once preeminent nation that has struggling mightily over most of the last 170 years. Concerning the latter, considering our extensive economic ties with them, considering our own recent international record, and considering our own environmental abuses, the more I thought about it, who are we to criticize China? Until we put our own house in order, China absolutely deserves to host this pilgrimage every once and a while.
More in the extended entry.
|China has become the world's leading polluter, and also continues to be one of the worst, if not the worst, human and worker's rights offender on the planet. However, considering that we imported 200 billion dollars in goods from China in 2004 (the most recent year for which I could find a figure), or about 10% of the entire Chinese economy in 2004, we are hardly in a position to criticize. Whenever you consume 10% of another nation's economy, you are giving more than tacit approval to the means by which that produces its economy. The environmental degradation, the lack of worker's rights, the media clampdowns, the human right's abuses, and the anti-democratic meddling in foreign governments are all just as much on our hands as they are on the government of China.
This isn't even to count the equivalencies:
While we are not as bad as China across the board, we also are in no position to deny them their place on the world stage. Until we lead by example, by producing and purchasing our goods in ways that are both environmentally sustainable, by making our companies uphold worker's and human rights both at home and around the world, by not supporting coups against democratically elected governments and even participating in the destruction of entire other nations, at least at an official government level we should not be criticizing other nations for their environmental, human and worker's rights abuses. Until that time comes, we should grant China its place on the world stage, rather than potentially turning them into a belligerent nation, resentful of the hypocritical nations who shun them. You know, kind of like we did to Russia, who as I type this is now in a state of war with Georgia.
(Note: I'm not saying that by pounding the U.S.S.R. into the dust during the Cold War, that the U.S.A. is somehow responsible for what is happening in Russia and Georgia. Both the Cold War and the current military situation in that region are very complicated, and I'm not going into that right now. What I am saying is that the situation between Russia and Georgia is something that we would like to avoid in the future, and shunning China is probably not the best way to avoid such situations. These things are not our fault, but there are still things we can probably do to help avoid them.)
There are going to be three great world powers in the 21st century: China, the European Union, and the United States of America. If we are going to have events such as the Olympics, then all three are entitled to the occasional pilgrimage of the world's leaders and greatest athletes, not just the latter two. That is, all three are entitled until the other two can clearly distance themselves from the worst crimes committed by one. Right now, given the extensive economic ties the US and the EU have with China, given their own massive pollution, and given that all three still regularly intervene in the affairs of other nations, it isn't clear to me at all that such a case can be made. Because of our own actions and because of our own economic ties with China, we are giving more than tacit approval to everything that the Chinese government does.
Long-term, I don't see China as the main threat to U.S. preeminence around the world. If I were a betting man, I would guess that in fifty or one hundred years, the European Union will actually be the dominant global power. The advantages currently held by the EU seem almost overwhelming:
- Already, it boasts the world's largest economy, and is in fact about the size of the U.S. and Chinese economies combined.
- While all three powers feature growing populations, only the EU can also add territory and natural resources. In fact, it can do so without any military action, as country after country lines up to join.
- Further, its growth tends to be a progressivizing force that does not breed resentment, as counties actually improve their human rights, worker rights, and environmental standards in order to take part.
- The EU's investment in alternative energy and sustainable development far outstrip that of either China or the U.S., which will put it in an extremely strong position following peak oil, peak coal, and peak whatever else.
- It's lower military spending and greater social investment will probably allow it to maintain a higher standard of living, eventually making it a more attractive destination for immigrants in future decades.
- The rising Euro may eventually replace the dollar as the standard currency for global trading markets, thus causing even more wealth to flow to the EU.
I felt an occasional twinge of sadness thinking about all this last night. We should be in a better moral and economic position to criticize the Chinese, but we are not. We should be the leading force for progressivism in the world, but now that torch is being carried to the European Union. Finally, while these Olympics will probably feature a competitive medal count between China and the U.S. that will allow them to appear to be the world's two preeminent powers, the truth is that both are operating according to unsustainable systems that will eventually--if it hasn't already--allowed both to be surpassed by a third force.
None of this is set in stone, and we can put our country back on the right track. Also, while last night may have been seen by many as the "coming out party" for China, the haze of pollution in the air the next morning should also be a coming out party for the consequences of our actions in other nations. That haze in the air is one of the reasons why so many of things that we buy are cheap. We own it just as much as the Chinese do, and it could be the downfall of us both.