With the 2008 Olympics set to open in Beijing next month, China may be going for the gold in the double-cross category.
Media companies that have paid for the rights to broadcast the Games are now being told they will not be able to film live in iconic locations like Tiananmen Square. Chinese officials fear protesters will be visible in the shots and fear an international backlash if cameras catch police violently engaging the protesters.
For Beijing to win the competition to host the Olympics, China's authoritarian government had to agree to relax the rules and allow media outlets to show the Games without government censorship. As the reality of that pledge begins to set in, Chinese leaders are becoming uneasy.
Understandably, China wants to present its best face this summer as it tries to use the Olympics to vault the country to international prestige. But with a greater role on the world stage comes greater public scrutiny, and there will be occasions during the Games when something happens that is not in the script or the travel brochures.
It's not as if other major world players don't have protests. The United States has seen massive protests on everything from the Iraq war to immigration. Truck drivers in Spain recently formed a roadblock along the country's border with France to protest rising diesel fuel costs.
The International Olympic Committee should guide China through this adolescent phase and keep prodding the country to grant the media the kind of access it promised back when it was bidding for the Olympics. The IOC also has to be on its toes to prevent a repeat of China's handling of coverage of the recent earthquake. Beijing allowed generally open media coverage that helped spur rescue efforts — until reporters started investigating why so many schools collapsed and covering the protests of grieving parents. Then coverage by the state-run media was banned and the school sites were suddenly off-limits to journalists.
The Olympics will test China's willingness to allow open media coverage on a worldwide stage, and heavy-handed censorship would do more damage to its image than any protests.