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ISSUE 121 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/2/2008

China distracts

By Chris Waters
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 2, 2008

There is a vibrant community of passionate individuals on the St. Olaf campus. Many people join organizations to try and help end human rights abuses all over the world. Often, many of these people take the moral high ground, arguing that people are suffering from repression by harsh rulers and little money.

When a big topic comes out, many people jump on the opportunity to further a cause by inviting speakers and holding forums on a situation that merits moral outrage. Letters are written in order to try and change the status quo, collections are taken to try and help the victims and slowly the story that had given the activists a purpose starts to fade into memory until a new crisis emerges. Statistics become boring and many students would much rather spend those $5 on something else. So, does this make the recent fervor over China a short fad that will keep activists happy in the short term? Or does this incident cater to a much larger audience, scared of poor economy and a bitterly divisive political campaign? In essence, is China a convenient scapegoat for our problems, or are people really concerned?

Recent explosions of violent acts across the globe during the Olympic Torch relay suggest to me that there are people out there who do not like China and are not afraid to take it out on unarmed (and in one case, wheelchair bound) athletes trying to set an example of world unity through sports. These demonstrations, often characterized by violence, have taken place across the globe: in France, the United States, Indonesia and Australia (to name a few places the torch has been), also suggesting that there is a very diverse population that disagrees with China's internal policy.

Other issues that have challenged China are pollution, executions, lack of freedom of the press and speech, military expenditure increases and the active destruction of the environment. These issues all irk a certain strata of Western society, and often China gets blamed for being the worse abuser of all of these violations.

But should China take the fall for all of these issues? Pollution and the environment are hot topics in popular media today. Initiatives have been taken to clean up the environment and reduce pollution, especially carbon emissions. The United States still outranks the rest of the world in pollution and emissions. Although China is starting to close that gap, there still should be some proportionality observed. China is a huge country, larger in both population and land than the United States, and they were already working on their pollution problems long before the United States thought of trying.

While China executes more people and has restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, the United States does not do much better. In the most recent Guardian "Top 100 Offenders" for human rights, the United States cut 37th from the top of the list. China was ninth. Does this give us the moral high ground when countries like Uganda, Angola and Uzbekistan (ranked 38-40) beat us in the human rights ranking? Even on military expenditure, the United States far outstrips everyone else at $623 billion in 2004. Given that the rest of the world combined spent an estimated $500 billion for defense, do we have any right to complain about China's actions?

So that leaves us with fear. Are we so afraid for our future that we have to take it out on someone else? Taking a slightly more cynical approach, we attack China because it is easy to attack. Europe is hard to protest against because most people in the United States are of European desent. South America is also out of the question because it simply does not have the capabilities that China has. Africa, who cares? Russia, the big bear, we beat them long ago. The Middle East, we are already there. Central Asia is landlocked and largely unpopulated. South Asia is booming and fueling the U.S.economy.

That only leaves China to worry about, to project our fears onto. Everything recently has gone down the tubes here, and we need something to vent about. The war is too divisive to talk about, and so are the elections; even though these things that are more important to our well-being than China's actions in Tibet. Is this just a unifying fear?

Chris Waters '10 is from Auburn, Calif. He majors in history and CIS archeology.

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