Born in Angoul√™me, France, Claude Arpi's real quest began 36 years ago with a journey to the Himalayas. Since then he has been an enthusiastic student of the history of Tibet, China and the subcontinent. He is the author of numerous English and French books including. His book, ‘Tibet: the lost Frontier’ (Lancers Publishers) was released recently.
The glittering function is over, and the Olympic Games declared closed.
But as the last floodlights on the Olympic Stadium are switched off, an interesting question remains. What is the future of China?
The leadership in Beijing would certainly have gone through an enriching experience. They would have learned the hard way that many across the world do not appreciate their lack of value for human rights and freedom or the way they treat ‘their nationalities’, in particular the Tibetans.
Once the exacerbated nationalist wave within China dies down, the leadership in their paradisiacal enclave of Zhongnanhai will have to draw up a balance sheet and ponder on the future.
What will happen to freedom?
Radio Free Asia recently reported that thousands of taxicabs in Beijing have been fitted with video cameras and satellite technology that transmit a live audio feed of conversations in the cab. They are later monitored by computers capable of analysing dozens of languages and even recognising faces.
An employee at a major Beijing cab company told RFA: “It was about two or three months ago. All the taxis in our company had this fitted."
The measure is not restricted to Beijing, it has been implemented in other main Chinese cities as well as restive provinces such as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. In some places, the cameras automatically take a picture of every taxi occupant. Of course according to the People's Daily, it is to “help authorities keep watch for illegal activity".
The question is: will these devices be dismantled on August 25? I can bet not. It means that there will be an increased intrusion into the private lives of the Chinese citizens.
What will happen to the Internet access?
One of the most serious controversies before the Games was the access to the Internet. Connection for the Main Press Centre during the Games was ‘limited’ as per the official jargon.
A month before the Games, Jacques Rogge, the President of the IOC had told Agence France-Presse: “For the first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China. There will be no censorship on the Internet.” Beijing set up a "Great Firewall of China" to block users from reaching sites with contents objectionable to the Communist Party leadership.
Usually if a country wants to censor the Internet, specific Web sites or Web addresses are blocked. But as usual, China is a precursor in this field. It uses sophisticated devises to filters the Web content and specific keywords.
According to OpenNet Initiative, a partnership between different Western universities, a giant intranet setup managed by the Chinese authorities called the Golden Shield is the most performing tool for the purpose: “Compared to similar efforts in other states, China's filtering regime is pervasive, sophisticated, and effective. It comprises multiple levels of legal regulation and technical control. It involves numerous state agencies and thousands of public and private personnel. It censors content transmitted through multiple methods, including Web pages, Web logs, on-line discussion forums, university bulletin board systems, and e-mail messages.”
Further, some 30,000 Internet policemen are working around the clock to keep the filters up to date and check the emails of persons suspected of receiving “propaganda harmful to national security and social stability of the People’s Republic”. Will this go after the closing ceremony? Unlikely.
What will happen to the Tibetans?
In a recent exclusive interview for Sify.com, Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche, the Tibetan Prime Minister-in-exile warned: “After the Olympic Games are over, the Chinese authorities will probably come down very heavily on the Tibetans They will also bring more [armed] forces inside Tibet and increase the transfer of [Han] population. The post Olympics is therefore more dangerous than the present moment.”
Last month, Irene Khan, the head of Amnesty International, said that the world will “need to maintain pressure on China for human rights reform after the Beijing Olympics”.
“Abuses, including the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners, use of the death penalty, censorship, restrictions on assembly and repression of minorities are still commonplace in China,” says the latest Amnesty report. As the world has witnessed in March and April, even peaceful demonstrations have been ruthlessly suppressed. It is feared by many that the Tibetans will have to pay for their ‘arrogance’ and daring actions once the Olympics are over.
Zhang Qingli, the Party Chief in Tibet, in a secret communication to the Communist cadres advised the cadres for the post-Olympics period: “We must learn lessons from this issue [March-April demonstrations] and organise our masses to build up an impregnable fortress against the tide of encirclement to beat our enemy…So you, the leaders of work units, must guard your gates and manage your people well. Let leaders of street committees be vigilant and keep watch on all outsiders.”
“Propaganda and education are our party's greatest advantages. These are the most useful weapons with which to defend ourselves against the Dalai Lama group,” he concluded.
Ominous words from the person who called the Dalai Lama a ‘wolf in monks’ cloth”. Given the cowardice and political expediency followed by most world leaders, the future of the Tibetans is sombre.
What will happen to the environment?
One good thing about the Olympics is that it brought an improvement in the air quality, particularly in Beijing. The Chinese authorities had promised that the Games would unfold under a blue sky; with no haze shrouding the city. The pollution level would be safe for athletes. Beijing is said to have invested $17.6 billion to clean the air of the capital.
Factories miles away from the Forbidden City were closed down and over half the city's 3.3 million cars were removed from the roads.
Even though the air pollution levels remained higher than the World Health Organisation standards, it was an immense progress.
But will it continue? Certainly not! The factories will be reopened; the cars will be on the road again.
Let us not forget that thanks to the phenomenal economic growth, China will surpass the US as the world's No 1 emitter of greenhouse gases in 2008. It is the largest depleter of the ozone layer.
Sixteen of the world's 20 most polluted cities are Chinese, 70 per cent of the country's lakes and rivers are polluted, and potable drinking water is scarce. What will happen after the Games is anybody’s guess.
What will happen to the economy?
In this domain, any prediction is difficult. However, China will be facing serious problems after the Olympics. One of them is inflation. Bloomberg recently analysed: “China will find that controlling the Internet is easier than taming price pressures. Officials in Beijing have compliant executives at Google and Yahoo helping them censor cyberspace. Even after employing all of the conventional tools of economic policy, cooling inflation is easier said than done.”
Many other factors such as the fact that China has an aging demography or that the public sector enterprises are weak, does not encourage an optimistic view on the future.
John Pomfret, a former Washington Post Bureau Chief in Beijing, rightly pointed out: “But on a per capita basis, the country isn't a dragon; it's a medium-size lizard, sitting in 109th place on the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook Database, squarely between Swaziland and Morocco. China's economy is large, but its average living standard is low.” And the difference in income between the rich and poor keeps increasing.
How will the leadership tackle these issues? Will they try to bully their way through or will they listen to the stakeholders, whether inside China or outside?
It is a billion yuan question. During his first foreign jaunt in Qatar last month, an interesting remark by Xi Jinping, the Chinese Vice-President and Hu’s heir apparent is worth mentioning. He declared: “It’s like a huge cage where all kinds of birds coexist. If you try to drive away those noisy ones, you would lose that wonderful variety and colour. The key is to mind our own business well.”
Will his elders listen?
The views expressed in the article are of the author’s and not of Sify.com.