Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Olympics card

The approach of the 2008 Beijing Olympics is giving China increased international attention -- some of which Chinese leaders no doubt would be happy to do without.
With Mia Farrow in the lead, some celebrities advocate boycotting what they've begun to call the "Genocide Olympics" unless China urges Sudan, its trading partner, to stop the violence in Darfur and let U.N. peacekeepers in. When Steven Spielberg, artistic director for the '08 games, expressed concern, China appointed a special envoy to the region.
Members of Congress have joined in, proposing resolutions to pressure China on Darfur. "'With the Olympics coming, China is now in the international spotlight," U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) noted, then declared that it's time for "'China, finally, to join the world community and acknowledge that genocide is taking place.'"
China's new Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, lashed back: "'There is a handful of people who are trying to politicize the Olympic Games. This is against the spirit of the Games. It also runs counter to the aspirations of all the people in the world, and so their aims will never be achieved.'"
Yang thus endeavored to disregard decades of politicization of the Olympics. The 1992 Barcelona games were the 1st in modern history that no country boycotted for some political reason. Among the political disputes that has played out in Olympic arenas -- and continues to do so -- is China's chronic tiff with Taiwan.
Still, Yang's response to Darfur-related pressure counsels care in playing the Olympics card. Is a boycott in fact possible, and if not, is threatening it a good idea? The complexity of China's relationship to Sudan and Darfur -- and to the rest of the world -- was evident yesterday: U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, on "The News Hour" to promote the U.S. increase in sanctions against Sudan, took pains to state that although Chinese leaders do not support sanctions, "they appreciate the importance of this situation and they, along with us, have worked hard to impress upon the government of Sudan the importance of Sudan accommodating the wishes and demands of the international community in regard to Darfur."
In any event, is Darfur the best reason to play the card? Surely it is not the only one. Last month Amnesty International asked the International Olympic Committee to pressure China on account of repression within China itself -- a concern that's particularly noteworthy today, just 5 days short of the 18th anniversary of the Tiananmen killings. Of additional concern ought to be China's newfound penchant for giving foreign aid with no human rights strings attached. To the extent that it displaces the tradition of conditional aid, China's new policy of unfettered assistance promises to undermine a key means by which donor states from regions like North America and the European Union have prodded beneficiary states to treat their children -- and their women and men -- well.

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