Issue 2, June 2008
|Update: Modern China|
The 2008 Beijing Olympics were considered by many to be a great success and demonstrated the control and efficiency of which the Chinese government is capable. Stunning, large-scale, and finely tuned opening and closing ceremonies wowed audiences, and the Chinese led in the medal standings with 51 gold medals and 100 medals overall. Despite some minor controversies (including speculation regarding the true age of members of the female Chinese gymnastics team and the last-minute substitution of a child singing in the opening ceremonies for one deemed ‘prettier’), many viewed the Beijing Olympics as a coming out for China as a political and economic world power.
Despite widespread fears that air pollution would hinder athletes during the Olympics, China’s pollution levels met minimum standards. Leading up to the Olympics, Chinese officials introduced several emergency measures to limit air pollution in Beijing, including temporarily closing down polluting factories and limiting traffic on the city’s roads. This led to Beijing’s cleanest August air in a decade. Some speculate that this experience has raised the expectations of Chinese citizens and believe that as a result, more pressure will be placed on the Chinese government to maintain the decreased level of pollution.
In an attempt to exhibit openness, Chinese authorities designated protest zones in which protesters would be allowed to air grievances during the Olympics. Despite this, none of the petitions to stage demonstrations were approved, and at least half a dozen of those submitting petitions were arrested. In addition, several foreign, pro-Tibet protesters were detained and later deported for their actions.
In the first week of August, there were two attacks in Xinjiang, a province in the Northwest of China that is home to many Muslim Uighurs, many of whom wish to create an independent state called East Turkestan. The World Uighur Congress stated that the Chinese government was responsible for these attacks because of what they view as repressive policies in Xinjiang. Despite fears that Muslim Uighur separatists would disrupt the Olympics, there were no major incidents that directly affected the Games.
A 6.1 magnitude earthquake hit Sichuan Province on August 30, killing at least 32 people, injuring 230 people, and forcing the evacuation of over 40,000 people. The earthquake, which also damaged highways, reservoirs, bridges, and hundreds of schools, came just months after a May 12 earthquake devastated the Sichuan Region, killing nearly 70,000 people.
In late August, Iraq signed a 22-year oil contract with a Chinese oil company that could be worth up to $3 billion. This marks the first major oil deal that Iraq has made with a foreign country since 2003. Under the agreement, which is yet to be approved by the Iraqi cabinet, the China National Petroleum Corporation will provide technical advisers, oil workers, and equipment to help develop the Ahdab oil field, which lies southeast of Baghdad. The deal could provide important political capital in the future, as China will be seen by Iraqis as providing needed assistance in the development of oil resources; the contract will also likely serve as a key foothold in future dealings with oil-rich Iraq.