Demonstrations against China's control of Tibet and other human rights concerns have contrasted this week's celebrations of the offical countdown to the 2008 Olympic Games.
With one year to go before the big event, China's communist leaders are facing criticism from dissidents and some foreign observers about the country's level of commitment to the shared humanitarian ideals of the Olympic movement. Some critics say China should not have been awarded the games in the first place, citing concerns about its authoritarian rule and the growing issue of environmental pollution.
It's important to keep in mind that we might not be talking so much about these issues if China hadn't been awarded the Olympics in the first place. In this sense, the Olympics can, and should, be a catalyst for change.
China has one third of the world's population and is going to be a major global influence this century on the diplomatic, military, economic and environmental fronts. We should ask ourselves what might happen if the world didn't pay so much attention to China.
So, precisely because of the upcoming Olympics, the world's attention is now focused on the country more than ever. China's leaders are working to present the best possible image leading up to the opening ceremonies. While this week's demonstrations attempted to shame the country's leaders, we could argue that constructive dialogue and the athletic gathering itself, with a worldwide audience, will be more effective instruments for change.
Western countries desire China's cheap labour and access to its enormous internal market. China is equally dependent on raw materials from abroad and on improving relations.
With the Chinese authorities, it may be better to engage and discuss, than to shun or scold.