Back in 1936, a certain country used the Olympic Games to showcase the achievements of its totalitarian regime. Visitors were impressed by signs of economic progress, including a new national freeway system; amazed at technological innovations, like the first public use of live TV coverage; and awed by the orderly nature of a society where the police had the whip hand. Even the local athletes put on a good show. Apart from some unpopular successes for certain U.S. athletes of color, the host country easily topped the medal table, with 33 golds to the USA’s 24.
Now, 72 years later, we are to be treated to a similar spectacle — the Beijing Olympics, when another ascendant totalitarian power will pull out all the stops in an attempt to promote its economy, society and political system. But what, exactly, is China’s political system?
Although it claims to be a communist country, China can be more accurately described as a fascist state. Due largely to the horrific events of World War II, the word “fascism” and “fascist” are now terms charged with extreme emotions. But looked at in terms of political science, fascism is a system of state power that utilizes nationalism and big business to strengthen a country economically, industrially and militarily, especially when the country feels disadvantaged by the existing global system. In the past, Italy, Germany and Japan turned to fascism in an attempt to redress the power balance of what they saw as a biased international system that favored the main capitalist and colonial powers. Now China is doing something similar.
Instead of public ownership of the means of production and the equitable distribution of wealth that should characterize a communist system, the so-called Chinese Communist Party encourages big business, billionaires and bling. China is now a land of gross inequalities populated by high-class hookers and low-paid factory workers, a place where trendy consumer goods are promoted alongside the increasingly hollow platitudes of socialism.
The internationalist aspect of communism is merely used as a means of extending China’s influence in Africa, whose raw materials the Chinese covet but are too weak to control directly. Meanwhile, closer to home, under the umbrella of growing military might, Chinese nationalism has become increasingly virulent, with constant threats aimed at the Taiwanese or anyone who supports the independence of the Tibetans or Uighurs. Here in Tokyo, we get a front-row seat any time Japan does something that displeases the Chinese government — from visiting Yasukuni Shrine to complaining about poisoned gyoza. Then, we’ll see the Chinese rent-a-mob out there in force with its nationalistic slogans about “great China” and “little Japan.”
China’s role in the global economy is also interesting. Happy to be the “world producer” to America’s role as the “world consumer,” the Chinese government keeps the yuan low and exports high. While America closes factories and builds shopping malls, China builds steel plants and infrastructure, slowly altering the balance of power and transforming itself into the world’s major power. All this with a one party state, no democracy and oppression of dissent.
The big assumption is that involving China in the world economy like this will tie its interests to ours and promote Chinese democracy. In the meantime, China gets thousands of new factories and hundreds of millions of workers inured to hard labor and shortages, while the West gets to play with its credit cards. Chinese democracy, meanwhile, is left securely on the back burner.
In 1936, the very year of the Berlin Olympics, top Nazi Hermann Goering called on German workers to make greater sacrifices in the nation’s drive to become industrially and militarily powerful. “Guns will make us powerful; butter will only make us fat,” he famously said. China’s role in the world economy is a clear case of “guns instead of butter.”
Recently, the film director Steven Spielberg called attention to China’s role in the ethnic massacres taking place in Darfur, a province of the Republic of Sudan, whose government China supports by trading, supplying weapons, and using its U.N. Security Council veto when necessary.
Spielberg’s decision to boycott the Olympics soon came under attack by critics who suggested that what we needed was “constructive engagement” with the Chinese. It might chill some of us to remember that exactly the same arguments were used back in 1936, when many had reservations about attending Hitler’s Olympics.
Of course, each nation — including China — has a sovereign right to develop its industry, economy, and even military power in whichever way it likes. But at the same time, the rest of the world should do a better job of recognizing what’s really going on: a powerful one-party state is using our greed for cheap consumer goods to gradually transform itself into the biggest concentration of industrial muscle on earth, while using the Olympics to send out a “dog whistle signal” that a new superpower has arrived and expects to be obeyed.
This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp)© Japan Today