"The pen is mightier than the sword." For nearly a decade, Brahm has used newspaper articles, magazines and authored over 20 books to explain current affairs, reshape stalled negotiations, and provide a communication platform to Asian leaders and policymakers. His writings reveal underlying central challenges facing Asia over the past decades.

Different Dreams

Written by Laurence Brahm - Published by South China Morning Post on 07/29/2008

China repeatedly insists that the Olympics should not be politicised. It should not; it is a sporting contest between nations. Its origin lies in periods of truce between warring Grecian states when weapons were put aside for the sake of sport. The Olympic spirit is associated with the values of those early Grecian states: good governance and humanism.

In 2001, when Beijing was awarded the Games, unprecedented dancing and partying erupted in the streets. However, from that moment on, the 2008 Olympics has been politicised.

Awarding the Games to Beijing was a political decision, unanimous among major western nations. They firmly believed that, through the process of hosting the epitome of all international events, China would become more integrated into the global system, more open, more transparent, more media friendly and more international in outlook; a bit more Grecian.

However, China saw things differently. In one fell swoop, it was being welcomed into the club of rich global nations, finally wiping away the opprobrium of the 19th-century Opium wars, the Japanese invasion during the second world war and the international ostracism after the communists seized power in 1949. Suddenly, Chinese felt all of that historic baggage would disappear. The Olympics symbolised, for both the government and the people, China’s emergence as a global power and, more importantly, international recognition of its new status regained from ancient days when it was the “celestial empire”.

Economics rode on the back of politics, creating a five-year boon for Olympic construction, driving prosperity and, most importantly, galvanising nationalism. An unprecedented nationwide construction boom began.

The assumption was that this would be required for the massive influx of tourists. Every Chinese believed they would make money from this, one way or another. But none of that has happened. On the eve of the Olympic celebrations, most hotels in the capital are empty, never mind those in other areas. Visas are hard to obtain. Security paranoia is making China a less desirable destination than expected.

From 2001 onwards, both China and the west pressed ahead with Olympic preparations, with completely different perspectives. China gave unprecedented commitments of openness to the international media. Expectations were high. Naively, International Olympic Committee members even foresaw security for the Games falling under their auspices, not China’s – fat chance.

That naivety lasted until this year, when China became the focus of global protests on a variety of issues. Some 30,000 journalists arrived in China interested in covering everything but sport. The torch relay became a public relations fiasco on the back of which rose fervent nationalism, painting a different picture of China to the world. When French President Nicolas Sarkozy wavered over attending the opening ceremony, nationalism turned to anger. Stage-managed protests against French products demonstrated the economic buying power of Chinese nationalism. Soon, attendance at the opening ceremony became a litmus test of leaders’ diplomatic and trade commitment to China.

The dragon became paranoid. Domestic unrest broke out first in Tibet , then Guizhou , Zhejiang and Yunnan, heightening security concerns. Fears of protests turned to suspicion over terrorism, then to schizophrenia. The welcomed freedoms for journalists were withdrawn. An unprecedented surveillance apparatus was installed across Beijing, and a massive mobilisation of security and police locked down the city. It became the “Safe Olympics”.

So, despite China’s request, the Olympics has been politicised. While Beijing has adopted the Olympic slogan of “One World, One Dream”, ironically China and the west have been fulfilling notions of an ancient Chinese saying: “Sleeping in the same bed, but dreaming different dreams.”


Laurence Brahm is a global activist, international mediator, political columnist and author. He is the leading advocate of a fresh development paradigm - The Himalayan Consensus - an innovative approach to development.

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