Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Boycotting the Beast o' the East

I made a passing reference this weekend that I was looking forward to the Olympics, which is entirely true. I love having the excuse to watch short sporting events that for the next Olympic cycle I'll not even think about. My sister's boyfriend happened to be sitting across my parents' living room from me and commented about the potential boycotts. I made a half-hearted, lame crack about not being able to find enough energy to care about a boycott (which is sadly too true to actually be funny). I also added that I'm not so sure that a boycott will do any more good than actually having the Olympics in Beijing will do.

I'm not thinking the boyfriend has the highest opinion of China, and that's perfectly understandable. They've not had the best record since the beginning of The Great Leap Forward. If sovereign states were parents, China would be the dad who beat the crap out of his kids and didn't even really try to hide it, thinking he was just instilling good values, and that's actually giving them the benefit of the doubt as for their intentions. The boyfriend has an extra reason to dislike the ancient giant of the East. He's Taiwanese. That's right, his birthplace is the remnant of the Republic of China and continues to face the possibility of annihilation from a China that still chafes from not being able to finish the job after WWII. Sure, the boyfriend's been in the US long enough to speak without an accent, but his parents grew up there and he has family still there, and there's always that family culture thing going on.

Despite my unenthusiastic response in the conversation, this isn't something that I'm entirely apathetic to. I'm just not sure a boycott is going to do any good. Boycotts are great when you can organize one large enough to count for a significant portion of a company's sales. Maybe you could stir up enough discontent that you scare off a few big sponsors, but even that's a long shot. China's a huge market and only getting bigger. What benefit does Coca-Cola get from satisfying a few Western hippies at the risk of alienating Chinese consumers? I'm not surprised Georgia's favorite multi-national has taken the "we're staying out of politics" cop out here.

Besides, despite comparisons to Hitler's fascist Germany during the 1936 Olympics, I don't think the modern China is something that needs to be struggled against, but something that needs to be cajoled into more appropriate action as it moves into the mainstream. Germany in the '30s wasn't a pariah nation making its way back into the international community. It was the exact opposite. Fascist Germany was a formerly internationally mainstream country headed into pariah mode. China is actually headed in the other direction. They have spent most of the last 70 or so years as the pariah state, but, while they still exhibit some emotional scars from the abuse they took during their political childhood after their Communist rebirth, they really are moving back into step with the rest of the world. They've opened up their economy. They've returned some freedoms to their citizens and they're even showing some signs of loosening their media censorship. That's not to say that they don't continue to have some serious issues. They are still perpetuating human rights abuses and there's that whole Tibet thing, but those aren't things that can continue indefinitely with China's continued economic growth. Just look at history. As the middle class increases, the government's ability to maintain a totalitarian system decreases. Totalitarian China signed its own death sentence when it opened up its economy and allowed business the room to expand. Now it just needs the time to settle into its middle class lifestyle and I'm not sure any drop-in-the-bucket boycott of the Olympics will speed that up, especially considering the country has been facing fairly strong political and public relations pressure to clean up its act for decades. It's not like it's some Podunk backwater banana republic that the average American has never heard of. Of course a few good protests are in order. You've got the largest and most general eye China has ever seen peering down on it. Just because a boycott is pointless, drawing more attention to China's abuses isn't.

Besides, by the time China finally does finish its transition into the mainstream, its lingering backwardness, combined with the raging progress, will have destroyed our environment and ruined the economies of the West by jacking up energy costs through increased competition for the same resources. At least Tibet will be free, though. The Beastie Boys will finally be able to die in peace. And I really do hope they die.


Mickey said...

I could get behind a boycott of all Olympic sponsors, except I'm pretty much already boycotting the economy as a whole. Unless Kroger is a sponsor, I don't know who I'd boycott because that's the only large company that gets my money since it's where I get my groceries (alomost entirely store-brand) and also where I buy gas.

And if they are a sponsor (which I doubt), then I'll just head across the street to Food City.

I suppose I could boycott by not watching on TV, but since I don't usually buy things advertised on TV (Kroger the exception, but I'd go there anyway), and since we're not a Nielsen family, I don't see not watching as having any real impact.

But damn them anyway.

Chris said...

It's the thought that counts, Mickey.