When Beijing was selected as the venue for the 2008 Olympics, my esteem for the institution went way down. What should the Olympics stand for, if not the freedom to follow your dreams and be the best you can be? Giving China — one of the worst international human rights offenders — the opportunity to grandstand in front of the world as if it were just another global good citizen evokes shades of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
It’s not as though China’s abuses are minor or in dispute. Beijing’s victims include hundreds of thousands of Tibetans who have died as a result of China’s invasion of their country, thousands of dissidents and prisoners of conscience who have disappeared into prisons, organ harvesting from political prisoners, and the 400,000 Darfurians who have been killed in Sudan’s genocidal campaign backed by Beijing’s oil profits. China wants so much to control its population’s every potentially nonconforming thought and action that it has even banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission.
The Chinese government is also implementing a human rights crackdown in preparation for the Olympics, ironically to clean up its image prior to the games. According to Wikipedia:
The Beijing municipal authority has declared that more than 70 local laws and decrees would be made before the 2008 Summer Olympics which would banish local people who don’t have hukou (residency permits) of Beijing. It would also banish vagrants, beggars, and people with mental illness from the city. The Municipal authority also made it clear that it would strengthen border control, call for a “special holiday”, or forcible shutout, to make Beijing citizens stay at home during the Olympics. It also seeks to strengthen controls over Chinese and foreign NGOs and forbid any protests during the games. The government has also strengthened its laws relating to prosecution of those deemed to be disseminating material not beneficial to the state.
The Geneva-based group, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions has claimed that 1.5 million Beijing residents will be displaced from their homes for the Olympics event. Beijing’s Olympic organizing committee and China’s Foreign Ministry have put the number at 6,037. As of May 2005, 300,000 residents have been evicted in preparation for the games. Police in Beijing placed many people under arrest for protesting against the evictions.
Just today, the news came out that China arrested activist Yang Chunlin, who gathered 10,000 signatures for an open letter calling for human rights and opposing the Olympics. Clearly the government is nervous about efforts to link the Olympics and human rights — as well it should be. Human rights groups have dubbed these the “Genocide Olympics,” with a number of advocates starting the Olympic Dream for Darfur campaign and others addressing China’s role in issues like freedom of speech, religious freedom, Tibet, child labor, and the environment.
So, should we boycott the Olympics? Some are calling for this, but I think this is not the most effective path. We tried this with the 1980 Moscow Olympics and didn’t make much difference. It would only punish the athletes who have been working so hard and had no say in the decision where the games would be held. Better, I think, to get in China’s face and make sure the world knows what is going on there. We need to focus attention on their human rights abuses and not let them escape the glare of the world looking beyond the glittering facade to the bodies of the 1.3 billion people that the Chinese government steps on as it holds up the Olympic torch. We need to make Beijing squirm, and this event offers the opportunity to create a PR nightmare for the regime. When the world unites to denounce China’s repression, that will truly be an Olympic victory.