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Beijing Calling

ChinaWith the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing approaching, The Fletcher School's Alan Wachman comments on a changing China's relationship with the world around it.


"One World, One Dream." The phrase is the slogan for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, chosen to suggest the shared ideals of the nations sending their top athletes to compete for the gold.

But even this simple, idealistic motto can provide insight into the complicated lens through which the People's Republic of China views the world, and through which the world views a changing, growing China.

With the Olympics slated to start August 8, the international spotlight is trained on a country that has become a global economic powerhouse while wrestling with a reputation for human rights offenses and environmental negligence. But China's growth has left its neighbors and the broader international community uncertain about their own fate. So for China, the Olympics are a chance to make a statement.

"They have persuaded themselves that the Olympics is a way of showcasing all that China has become," says Alan Wachman (F'84), an associate professor of international politics at The Fletcher School who focuses on Chinese foreign relations and international security.

A Changing China

According to Wachman, the "One World, One Dream" slogan is China's way of saying to the international community, "We all want to be richer, we all want to eat more, we all want to be more secure. Our aims are no different than yours. Don't look at our effort to get what we want as any different from your efforts to get what you want." But for China and the world around it, seeing eye-to-eye has never been easy.

The China of today is much different than the China that Wachman studied as a Fletcher student. Back then, the country was just a few years removed from the 1976 death of Mao Zedong. From 1949 up to that point, says Wachman, China had been "tied up with ideological zealotry."

But after 1978,when Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping initiated a process of economic reform and opening the country to interactions with the non-communist world, the Chinese saw an opportunity to change the way they interfaced with the global community. China focused on building consumer and economic power and, Wachman says, "integrating itself into a world in which it had never felt entirely accepted during the preceding three decades."

China

Aside from opening itself up more to the world and becoming a global economic player, China has also seen change in the life of the individual over the past three decades. While China is still governed by an authoritarian regime, Wachman says it has become what he calls a "bounded pluralistic" society. While sharp boundaries exist that people must remain within, individual freedom within those boundaries has increased significantly.

In 1993, the desire for recognition of the strides made over the past decade and a half culminated in a bid by Beijing for the 2000 Olympic Games. The Chinese, confident their bid would be accepted, pasted its cities with banners and signs touting China as the prospective host of the 2000 Olympics, says Wachman.

But in the last round of voting by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Beijing lost to Sydney. The Chinese blamed the United States for its loss, citing a Congressional resolution urging American members of the IOC not to vote for China out of concern for the nation's human rights abuses. With the book closed on the 2000 Games, Chinese organizers set their sights on 2008 and were selected in 2001 to host this year's Olympics. (continued)

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Profile written by Georgiana Cohen, Office of Web Communications

Homepage photo: Chinese paramilitary police stands guard as athletes walk past the Olympic National Stadium "Bird Nest" during the Race Walking Challenge in Beijing, China, Friday, April 18, 2008. The race walking was the first event held at the National Stadium, ahead of the Olympic Games this August. (Andy Wong / Associated Press)

Other photo: Photo of Wachman by Len Rubenstein.

This story originally ran on July 14, 2008.