[Outlook]A regretful lack of apologyThe Olympic torch relay in Seoul was tarnished by violence, and distorted Chinese patriotism disappointed international society. China’s ambitious efforts to use the Olympics to come out as a world-class country, elevating its status and spreading an image of a cultured country, are facing a crisis.
China’s nationalism is based on patriotism.
The country, which consists of 56 ethnic groups, pursues internal unity using concepts of the nation, China, and of an imaginary single Chinese ethnicity.
Socialist ideologies and ethics, which had weakened since the country undertook reforms and began to open its doors, were replaced with political nationalism. The country also pursues military expansion as a safety net for economic growth. In doing so, China is pursuing its goal of building a great nation.
There is nothing we Koreans can say when China unifies its people with nationalism, because that is its domestic affair. However, such moves have an influence on neighboring countries such as Korea.
We understand China’s passion for the Olympics, as we hosted the Games in 1988. It is understandable that China might be worried about problems with the event related to what it calls distorted media reports regarding the Tibet issue. China’s concerns are reinforced by the fact that it invested such great efforts to successfully become the host country despite Western attempts to keep it in check.
However, Koreans had mixed feelings watching the Chinese mass in Seoul City Hall Plaza like occupation forces, waving huge Chinese flags. Koreans have already been having problems with China’s nationalism, as the neighbor has attempted to distort the history of the region.
It was shocking to see that Chinese patriots chose violence as a way to resolve problems. As the protest took place in the capital of Korea, Koreans’ pride was wounded.
We were not well prepared for the possibility of rallies of this kind. The Olympic torch arrived in Seoul amid criticism of China’s crackdown on Tibetan protesters in the international media. An increasing number of country leaders had decided to or were considering boycotting the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.
A sense of crisis was at its peak in China, and as the torch relay would continue to North Korea and Vietnam after Seoul before returning to China, Seoul seemed like the last major step of the relay.
However, the Chinese supporters overlooked the fact that Korea is a democratic country where peaceful rallies and protests are allowed and people have the freedom to express different opinions of an issue.
Violence could have been prevented if the authorities of the two countries had closely consulted each other in advance of the event.
What’s even more important is how the Chinese government understands and handles the case.
China issued a statement of regret about the incident, but a spokesman from its foreign ministry refused to apologize, saying that Chinese students in Korea held the protest to protect the Olympic torch from proponents of Tibetan independence.
This reveals a totalitarian stance, which means that China thinks it can use violence wherever it likes if the Chinese believe something is wrong. This is a Chinese style of resolving problems based on the country’s paranoia of the Western world.
China has lost the reputation it once had of an inclusive, majestic country. By not offering a sincere apology to Korea, it has missed a chance to shake off the negative image that is spreading because of the Tibet issue. It has lost also a chance to seek understanding from Koreans. We can’t fully understand how China feels about the Western world trying to keep it in check. But at least, China’s reaction to the recent incident was not one of a responsible country.
China must abandon its nearsighted idea that holding the Olympic Games successfully is everything that matters. The country must instead try to hold an event that matches the spirit of the Olympic Games, which is one of openness and freedom.
What’s important is that we do not let this unfortunate event give rise to wasteful discussions on nationalism in Korea-China relations. It is natural for Korea to severely punish leaders of the violent rallies and complain to the Chinese government. But such measures must not lead to excessive and blind anti-China sentiments.
We are civilized people, after all.
*The writer is a director of a research center for international and area studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kang Jun-young