Posted by: Dexter Roberts on July 14, 2008
In yet another effort to ensure a trouble-free Olympics, Beijing authorities have announced that they are banning more than a hundred officially-designated Olympic restaurants in China’s capital from including dog meat on the menu during next month’s games. Other restaurants would be discouraged from serving dog meat too.
“Dog meat sales are being suspended as a mark of respect for foreigners and people of ethnic groups,” an official with the food safety administration was quoted as saying by the Beijing Daily newspaper on July 11th. Dog meat has been controversial before, explained the official media, citing both the 1988 Seoul Olympics and 2002 World Cup as both major athletic events that were dogged by the issue.
Now while I personally am not a fan of eating dogs—too many happy memories from childhood with family canines—I can’t help but think that Beijing authorities have more important things they should be focusing on. Tops on my list? Beijing authorities start recognizing the obvious: that the upcoming Games will inevitably also be accompanied by protests, most likely by international visitors, and they will have nothing to do with dogs.
And whether those are related to China’s polices towards Tibet or the Sudan or some other human rights issue, it is impossible to stop them from happening. So a much more important issue facing Beijing authorities is how to deal with these unplanned events, do so in a way that creates minimal disruption to the Games, and doesn’t end up being so heavy-handed that efforts to control protests end up overshadowing the athletic event itself. Or worse yet—damage Beijing’s international image and even possibly hurt its economy in the long term.
This point was made very well in an interesting July 9th analysis by CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets China macro strategist Andy Rothman. Rothman’s analysis was focused on the economic impact of the Games on China, including how industrial and traffic restrictions might affect China’s economy. But the more interesting part to my mind was the part that looked at whether possible protests could have economic implications. Here’s what Rothman wrote:
“Peaceful protests will take place, at Olympic venues or Tiananmen Square, and the Party leadership will have to decide how its security services will respond. One option will be to arrest the protestors, ensuring that film of the arrests leads global media coverage of the Olympics, tarnishing China’s image and undermining the purpose of hosting the event
“Arrests of protestors will not have an immediate impact on the Chinese economy - unless the confrontations turn violent and protestors are killed or injured. This scenario is unlikely, but could result in Western consumers boycotting Chinese consumer goods. Mass arrests that do not result in injuries are likely to have a more subtle, longer-term impact: making it more difficult for mainland companies and the Chinese government’s new sovereign fund to invest overseas; damaging the image of goods made in China, which could slow export growth and the move by Chinese manufacturers to higher value-added goods; and raising the level of tension over human rights in China’s key diplomatic relationships.”
“Hopefully, the Party has decided to allow peaceful protests to take place in a way that does not interfere with the games, enabling China to achieve its objective of improving its international image and boosting national pride.”
Yes, let’s hope so. Judging from Beijing’s track record in dealing with protests, however, I’m not too optimistic. Figuring out how to deal with the inevitable protests will help ensure a more successful Games, and as Rothman notes, could affect China’s long term economic goals too. And worrying about things like how foreigners react to dog meat on the menu? Just a distraction from a lot more important issues still facing Beijing in the less than one month before the Games..