Taking a chomp out of the mess that is US politics, one issue at a time...

Friday, April 4, 2008

2008 Olympics: Supporting Inhumanity in Beijing?

Bush is arguably facing his last major, controversial decision as President of the United States:

Do we attend or boycott the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China?

On one hand, we need to protest the lack of human rights and absolute contradiction to democratic values that China represents. And unfortunately, contrary to guarantees that China would be gladly open their doors and use the 2008 Olympics to end hundreds of years of injustice and intolerance, China seems to if anything have worsened its religious and cultural intolerance as the games approach. Luke Thomas, an active member of the China Freedom Blog Alliance and supporter of Olympic Watch, warns Americans about participating in the 2008 Olympics in the current state of China:

"Please be aware that the Olympic Games will be held in a country where there are no elections, no freedom of religion, no independent courts, no independent trade unions; where demonstrations and strikes are prohibited; where torture and discrimination are supported by a sophisticated system of secret police; where the government encourages the violation of human rights and dignity, and is not willing to undertake any of its international obligations.

Please consider whether the Olympic Games should coexist with religious persecution[,] labor camps, modern slavery, identity discrimination, secret police and crimes against humanity."

Thomas goes on to summarize the countries where China has been responsible for the genocide of entire nations of people. Some of these include Burma and Darfur, with the most recent atrocities being seen in Tibet. And while the Olympic Charter approved Beijing as the home of the 2008 Summer Olympics, they did so with the understanding that China would live by the self-created slogan, we live in "one world" with "one dream". However, Of Ignorance recently posted that China has officially banned filming from the infamous Tienanmen Square due to recent social unrest. This comes as a blow to many foreign activist groups who planned to make the Olympic games their stage in a quest for equality and humanity.

So the pervading question remains, do we attend the 2008 Olympics and indirectly support China's inhumanity? Or do we boycott them, breaking ties with a country avidly buying up our debt and crushing hundreds of young athletes dreams of a gold medal. Nancy Pelosi offers her advice in an interview with ABC, "I think boycotting the opening ceremony, which really gives respect to the Chinese government, is something that should be kept on the table."

And I agree with her. Looking past our financial dependence on China and boycotting the Opening Ceremonies sends the message that as a country who embraces democracy and touts tolerance of all, we do not tolerate the injustice that currently defines the domineering Chinese government.  However, when it comes to the actual sporting events, that's all they really are. Having American athletes compete in events against other countries is simply a competition, not a symbol of unification and support. We don't need another Moscow. It is unnecessary to ruin the years and decades of hard work that Olympic athletes have put into the upcoming summer simply because the International Olympic Committee had overly optimistic reformation dreams for China.

This idea of a partial boycott seems to be rippling throughout democratic nations around the world.  The question in most of the European Union is not whether they will boycott the Olympics, but how far they will take that boycott. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has already asserted that she will not be attending the Olympic Games and I'm sure many leaders will follow in her footsteps. (ABC)

Bush's upcoming decision is going to be extremely controversial, and probably more than some realize. Already over the weekend there were demonstrations in San Francisco, most notably the continuation of the Human Rights Freedom Torch Relay, a peaceful protest started in Greece to protest the lack of human rights in China. It will be interesting to see where America falls on the boycott continuum and whether or not Bush attempts to make a stand for human rights and justice.


Daniel Tola said...

It certainly is a dilemma over whether or not Americans or other Western democracies for that matter should boycott, but will it really matter either way? Given China’s historical tendency to do things their way despite a surmounting international pressure to do otherwise, does anyone really think that boycotting the Olympics will do anything to solve human rights issues there? The whole architecture of China’s economy is designed to do one thing – keep the ball in their court. China’s purchasing of our debt insures our loyalty to them as a trading partner. The pressure we put on them at this point is useless. Moreover, we’ve tried putting pressure on China for these human rights’ abuses before and we ultimately had to stop in order to do business with them. Unlike Iraq, China isn’t as easily invade-able. So let’s face it, China has most Western democracies by the balls at the moment and most third world country’s totally dependent on them. Pakistan for example will devolve into the Stone Age in the next couple of years unless China builds their new electric plants. I promise you won’t see an empty seat where Perez Musharaff should be sitting at the Olympics. We can kick and scream all we want, but at the end of the day Wall Street will be calling Beijing to open another factory and China knows it.

Rex345 said...

I completely agree that we are at the mercy of China financially and economically. But that wasn't really the point of the post. Yes; I find it unproductive to try and force China to change and yes; boycotting the Olympics will probably do absolutely nothing to improve human rights. But I believe in the principle behind attending a landmark sports event in a country that refuses basic rights to their people, an event that brings millions of dollars to the host country. And while I find it unfair to punish athletes who have spent the past 10 years preparing for the 2008 Olympics, I think boycotting the opening ceremony a relatively painless statement that we don't support China's treatment of its people.

Tall Asian Guy said...

Great discussion of the dilemma, Rex. It is definitely very tough. But I think the best solution is to deal with it strategically. By strategic, I do not mean for the sake of our economy or any financial reason. By strategic, I mean, let the people understand it for themselves.

China is currently experiencing the highest nationalist fervor it has ever experienced since the establishment of its "People's Republic" in 1949. For the first time, the Chinese mass--on its own--carried out a series of protests against foreign governments. Since early 2000, there have been numerous protests against the Japanese for their denial of massacres and sexual slavery during World War II. Recently, as you probably know, there has been some intense lash-back/ protests against the French government and its people for stopping the Olympics torch relay in Paris. The point I'm trying to make is that, regardless of how good "our" intentions may be, the Chinese people are not going to interpret it as how we desire and it'll only be understood as an anti-Chinese sentiment when the country finally gets to host a large-scale international event for the first time in its multi-millenia history. So with the equation of censored media + nationalist fervor at its peak + hosting an international event for the first time, the addition of "well-intended" disrespect will only be recognized and remembered forever as a hostility.

So then, moving on to my second point, how then do we solve the issue? We don't. We let them. By decreasing the number of opportunities for automatic xenophobic sentiment that'll arise from these protests, we let Chinese people expose themselves on their own to foreign cultures. It happened in Japan, it happened in South Korea. After they hosted Olympics in their respective nations, the citizens of those nations were for the first time exposed on large scale (from working class to upper class) to American culture, western thoughts, and ideologies. Since then, due to increased interests in others and desire to enjoy the fruits of others' beliefs, both nations have seen adaptations of political reforms previously carried by western nations. Japan has seen various reforms in its distribution of social welfare benefits--allowing for improved equality among different provinces--and South Korea has developed a Constitutional Court whose power to adjudicate with independence was a very untraditional idea.

So I believe the best solution to this phenomenon is to let China prosper from this international event, thus allowing for emergence of middle class as entrepreneurialism is on the rise thanks to the event itself and the international transactions created through it. And once middle class forms, political outcries for freedom is bound to happen. It happens all around the world and that's why the Saudis deny education--i.e. opportunity to move up the class ladder--because middle class means obtaining power and wanting to hold more.

I think we need to make sure Chinese people do not become xenophobic, because that'll only prevent them from reaching out and make them adhere to their Chinese propaganda.

BUT, I believe the U.S. government needs to seriously discuss it with the Chinese government on a eye-to-eye level, not through passive aggressions--because that only lets the Chinese gov't block our purpose in ours effort and interprets it as mere anti-Chinese hostility for its people.

Tall Asian Guy said...

for a second, i thought i could edit my comments.. i hate when i make grammatical errors.

Rex345 said...

You make an excellent point. I had not considered the likely effect of increased xenophobia that a passive aggressive boycott of the opening ceremonies would create. Acknowledging this still gives me qualms about publicly supporting China while they are terrorizing foreigners and their own people.

However, maybe you're right. Attending the Olympics will give the Chinese people unprecedented exposure to western ideals and thinking, no matter how far the Chinese government attempts to censor it. And there is no doubt that we are obligated to sit down with China, financial and economic dependence aside, and try and reason with them openly about the inhumanity occurring in the country.

Thanks for your comments; I appreciated thinking about the situation in such a different light.