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NZCTA Commentary: The Olympic Games has set the pace

China General Interest

As the hype of the Beijing Olympics slowly expires, we can now ask if the huge profile China achieved day by day ultimately created a more positive image for it.

The Olympics has always been the biggest event of all. Nations have competed robustly to stage them to enhance their status. China would have been deperately keen to signal to the rest of the world that it had arrived (literally) on the world stage and to showcase the nation as modern and global in outlook.

Unless you were lucky enough to be there yourself, the media was the intermediary between the event and the public at large – a public, which, in New Zealand, went way beyond sports fans, as free to air TV screened endless hours of Olympic activity far into the night.

It’s fair to say that, in general, our sports jocks are not hugely endowed either with formidable intellect or a strong sense of universality (who needs global issues when you can while endless broadcasting hours away with Henry v Deans?)

So prior to their trip to China to cover the games, many of them were articulating the prejudices and ignorance they would have picked up from the world media, the political lobbyists and their own innate xenophobia.

China as a generality had a bad press over Tibet but a more sympathetic assessment after the awful earthquake. So how has it now done over the Olympic Games?

Not so well maybe over the opening ceremony, awesome as it was, because of the digitalising of effects and the dubbing of the child singer. Whilst any objective assessment would say that was merely show business (what Hollywood movie doesn’t have digital effects and how many Hollywood starlets aren’t good looking yet have their voices or even bodies substituted where necessary?), it became a negative China, rather than a show business issue.

Overall, though, the organisation, the facilities and the friendliness of the officials was extensively reported in a positive light. Kiwi journalists, who had been commenting from a position of ignorance, because they had never been to China before, were acknowledging the impressiveness of Beijing and Qingdao as modern cities and the tastiness of the food.

Generally the event had a positive effect on China’s overall profile and may have generated better understanding, though much of the praise has been begrudging and tinged with the media’s pre-conceptions.

But it was difficult to find a sympathetic appraisal or understanding of the huge challenge the country has embraced to modernise a nation of 1.4 billion, which has survived and had to emerge from the massive privations of the quite recent past.

China would argue that it is making progress on such issues as human rights, the environment, and, in general, the values espoused by most western democracies. But in the context of the nation’s size, population and history, they would say feeding the people and ensuring they are employed must be the priority.

Judging the nation by the politically correct and comfortable middle class criteria of a country like ours may be giving us a sense of self righteousness but may also be a little unrealistic.

So will the games have assisted a badly needed PR revolution in regard to China? Maybe it will have created a little more superficial understanding but ultimately it’s China’s actual performance as a fully fledged player on the World stage, which will count the most.