Celebrate China’s Olympian achievements

In: Uncategorized

12 Aug 2008

The following comment by me – written during the opening ceremony for the Olympic games – appeared in this week’s Fund Strategy.

The Beijing Olympics symbolises the most important and positive development in the world in decades: the rapid economic development of China. Those who whine so noisily about the Olympics and China reveal more about their own insecurities than about the Asian giant.

China’s rapid growth over the past 30 years has raised more people out of poverty than any other development in world history. Its population is benefiting enormously from rising prosperity in a country where the scourge of famine was until recently a frequent occurrence. It is true that inequalities within China are widening, but in absolute terms living standards are immensely higher than in the past. China’s rapid growth has also led to a welcome reduction in the inequality gap between the developed world and emerging economies.

Given that China’s population is 1.3 billion, a fifth of the world’s, its internal development is hugely important. But it has also brought immense benefits to the rest of us. The global economy would have grown far more slowly in recent years if it were not for China’s contribution. Its rapid growth has played a key role in keeping the world economy going in the midst of an economic slowdown in the West.

If China’s development is so positive, why does it elicit so many complaints? It is hard to escape the conclusion that the West feels threatened by China’s emergence. Although China’s growth strategy is pragmatic, the western countries are worried they could lose their privileged place in the world.

The nauseating double standards applied to China confirm the point that the criticism is driven by western anxieties. No doubt the Chinese regime is deeply autocratic, but many critics forget, or at least downplay, anti-democratic trends at home. Try drawing breath in any British city without being filmed by CCTV cameras. Or how about detaining suspects for 42 days without charge? Those who complain about Tibet seem to forget about British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Defenders of such measures might point to the threat of terrorism and crime, but Beijing could do the same.

Rather than carp about the Olympics and China, it is time to enjoy the spectacle of the greatest sporting event on Earth.

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