Quo Vadis Torch?

By Flavio Machicado

If doubts whether the Chinese economy is in fact the new world power lingered like nicotine on a wedding gown the morning after, the upcoming Beijing Olympics will eliminate all delusions. The unipolar hegemony shortly held by the US withers away before our very eyes, and preeminence in the post-American world is being distributed amongst a host of nations. This redistribution notwithstanding, the wellbeing of the new big boys in Asia – India and China – hinges on growth in the greatest consumer society to ever engulf the planet, and both tremble before the possibility of a recession made in USA.

New evidence shows that in a highly interconnected world military prowess pales in comparison to public opinion, particularly when it comes to conquering hearts and minds. Armed with faster internet connections and their scrutiny enhanced by shock and awe, people cannot help but to witness every violation of human rights. After thousand years of wars between empires, however, no world power is prepared just yet to abandon their armies and trade them for a good PR department, and national security is still high on the agenda of every nation state. The complex formula in the modern era includes energy, water, food and economic stability. Thus, with few exceptions in oil rich countries, national safety is hardly optimized by creating obstacles, intransigence or confrontation.

As much as the US and China jockey against each other to maintain or increment their influence, no two enemies had needed each other so much before. And even as China represents an alternative political order, competing against the West for political and economic clout, it is also a partner. China must be brought to the table to discuss issues like human rights in Darfur, as well as in her own back yard. This will hardly be achieved through the use of force, or after having been subjected to humiliation in its own house. However, if the intent is to flare up the Chinese people’s nationalist passions, then joining our voices to the rightful protests is the appropriate path.

The Beijing Olympic torch touched American soil last week in San Francisco, where Mayor Newsome, State Department, two paramilitary officers from the Red Army, local police and the FBI executed a flawless torch run as far as the physical integrity of the runners – and the image of the Chinese government – is concerned. The torch began its journey in the shores of the Golden gate bridge, only to be immediately hoisted inside a warehouse with more protection than George W. Bush would need walking the streets of Baghdad. Using bait and switch tactics, the torch traveled through San Francisco inside a police escorted van, only to surface in streets filled with bewildered pedestrians in neighborhoods that were not in the original route.

Supporters of the Dalai Lama and a free and independent Tibet saw in the almost military execution of the torch run an implicit defense of Bush’s foreign policies and free trade, as well as of the human right violations on the part of the Chinese government. This awkward de facto alliance between Washington and Beijing has unleashed a fury of ironies and contradictions that our dualist primitive brain is not yet prepared to handle.

Those who peacefully protest human right violations see China as a colonial power that subjugated the people of Tibet by force. Is the struggle of the Tibetan monks and of its people a separatist ploy, or does it represent a legitimate anti-imperialist effort?

Those who ideologically oppose reestablishing economic stability by using the people’s taxes in the rescue of investment banks, consider the financial system a capitalist tool that has subjugated by force the world economy. Do efforts to perfect financial regulations in the US benefit the people of India and China, or is it an illegitimate capitalist imposition?

Those that defend freedom of expression and free trade see the campaign to boycott the Olympics – or the inaugural ceremony – as a strategy that harms the stability of world markets. Can one be pragmatic, cynical and promote freedom simultaneously?

The challenges facing humanity render ideological fundamentalism very dangerous. The fine line separating issues such as the free trade (promoted as well by China and India), the West’s opening up politically to the East (while promoting human rights), and government intervention for the sake of protecting financial stability (promoted by all) has been blurred, and these inconsistencies make us lightheaded.

In the name of consistency, many extremists would have to justify human right violations in Tibet, while others would have to applaud the fact that the US is copying a page from the Chinese ethics playbook by being bashful towards human right abuses when national interest are at stake. China – after all – is the world’s authority in the exercise of constraint and soft power, a foreign policy based on the strategy of commercial brinkmanship bundled with utmost silence regarding internal affairs, which incude brutal repressions on the part of many of its African trade partners.

Our achromatic daltonic brain struggles with the contradictions brought about by a multipolar world, as we strive to differentiate between friend and foe, and take a stand only once we have sorted out who is who. The Olympic game held every four games represent the union of the five continents and harmony between nations. This time around, they will also symbolize the unity and harmony that exists between multiple realities. Human rights now coexist with the imperative to transform the world economy into an efficient, ecological and socially driven engine for change. The world has ceased to be painted in black and white.

Global warming, energy and food crisis, and financial illiquidity are hitting humanity like a storm. Perfecting the system and understanding reality in its full range of colors, instead of pretending to reduce it to a dichromatic dualism, has become a matter of survival for humanity. The torch that lights the path towards practical solutions will require a modern and integrated global economy, one that creates incentives for nations to sit down together and improve the system, rather than to strive to malign it.

The fire that feeds the torch demands increasing cooperation, and less cynicism. Strengthening commercial ties and diplomacy will probably go further in overturning human right violations in China, than demanding Western leaders to upstage and defraud their games. Maybe the foreign policy currently in place by Washington has shown to be self-defeating. It does not follow that those who exercise their freedom of expression in protesting human right violations must be censored. Particularly when dissuading the protests could be confused by the Chinese government as having successfully appeased the West, encouraging brazen initiatives, such as the sale of weapons to Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Regardless of the many contradictions, truth is not absolute, and the process of creating conditions for peace and wellbeing for all people demands that we navigate waves of discontinuous logic. A small dose of the dreaded relativism will help advance global integration, and does not contradict the fact that defending principles only when it is in one’s interests to do so is invariably wrong.

Can we move towards a global harmony? Leave your reply below.

(*) The author happily receives comments at the following e-mail: flavio@graffiti.net.


Check Also

Incredible Internet Inequality

By: Lykke E. Andersen & Fabián Soria* According to the latest Bolivian Population Census (2012), …


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: