Mark Leonard
Executive Director, European Council on Foreign Relations

The Beijing Olympics

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Mark Leonard discusses the possibility of the Beijing Olympics acting as a catalyst for both dissent and reform.

Mark Leonard

Mark Leonard is Executive Director of the first pan-European think-tank, the European Council on Foreign Relations. It was launched in late 2007 with backing from the Soros Foundations Network, Fride, the Communitas Foundation, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, and the Unicredit Group.

His first book, Why Europe will run the 21st Century, published in the UK by 4th Estate in February 2005, has been translated into 17 languages. His second book What does China think? will be published later in the year.

Mark writes and broadcasts regularly on international affairs – assignments which have led him to seek out barbecues in Texas, prisoners in Egypt and cutting-edge architecture in China. His work has appeared in publications including The Financial Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, Prospect, The Spectator, New Statesman, Foreign Policy, The Washington Quarterly, Country Life, Arena, The Mirror, The Express, and The Sun.

Mark also acts an adviser to companies and governments on China, Middle East Reform, the future of Europe and Public Diplomacy; occassionally collaborating with the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas to produce work for clients ranging from the European Commission to Prada.


Question: Will the Beijing Olympics change Chinese policy?
Mark Leonard:  It’s very difficult to predict what’s going to happen.  But we’ve already seen disruptions in Tibet, people taking advantage of the exposure which China’s had.  And also even before the

events in Tibet, the fact that China was going to get the Olympics drew attention to Chinese policies in other parts of the world, like Sudan and Darfur, and the actions of people like Mia Farrow and Steven Spielberg did cast a spotlight on Chinese foreign policy and its consequences around the world.  I think what we’re seeing with the Olympics is that China is getting prime time attention from the world media.  People are asking much more difficult questions of it, and the Chinese haven’t really worked out how to respond to that, and that, I think, is a very positive thing.  I’m not sure exactly how it will develop.  I think certainly within China it’s unlikely, the Olympics is unlikely to have a great liberalizing effect, because the Chinese government still is very much in control of information.  It knows where everyone lives, and is going to go to great lengths to make sure that there aren’t any big disruptions.  But the added scrutiny of Chinese policies in the rest of the world I think could be a positive thing.  And it already has led to some sort of tactical shifts on issues like Darfur.