International criticism of China and threat of 2008 Olympics boycott

24.05.2007

By Marie V. Thesbjerg
Intense criticism has surrounded China’s planned route for the Olympic Torch relay prior to Beijing 2008. Human rights groups have also slammed China’s human rights record, their voices joined by US politicians who oppose China’s alleged sale of arms to Sudan.

"One World, One Dream." China’s slogan for the 2008 Olympic does not seem a reality yet.

The recent weeks’ uproar underscores the political sensitivities involved in China playing host to the Olympics. The announcement of the 2008 Olympic torch relay was engulfed in controversy as critics slammed Beijing's plans for stops in Taiwan and Tibet.

Taiwan rejected being part of the Olympics Games with China’s planning of the Olympic torch relay going trough Taiwan. China considers Taiwan part of its territory, to be retaken by force if necessary, following their split in 1949 after a civil war. But Taiwan is opposing the route as a symbol of Taiwan being under Chinese control.

Taiwan's National Olympic Committee said it did not want to play any part in the torch relay, denouncing it as "unacceptable" political interference, due to longstanding political rivalries, writes AFP.

"The Beijing authorities are attempting to turn the relay into a domestic route and therefore dwarf our status. This is absolutely unacceptable," Taiwan Olympic Committee chairman Tsai Chen-wei said in a statement. 

Taiwan should be grateful for the torch relay
Kevan Gosper, vice president of the IOC’s co-ordination commission for Beijing, accused Taiwan of ingratitude.

“They should go beyond how they feel about their regional position, recognize they have a special place in the Olympic movement, and be gracious about being included in the relay,” he said.

Taiwan is called Chinese-Taipei in the Olympic Movement. China was readmitted to the IOC under the Nagoya Resolution of 1979, also known as the "Olympic formula."  It states that China is allowed to use its national name, flag and anthem and Taiwan is not.  This is in conformity with the IOC’s Charter, which allows the admission of territories that may not be recognized as sovereign nations by other world organizations. Within the IOC, no symbolization of Taiwan as a sovereign nation is allowed: and the name “Republic of China” is forbidden in all Olympic activities, publications, and venues; the flag and anthem of the ROC are banned.

Despite Taiwan’s claiming of China misusing the torch relay, China sees it differently.

“China is not trying to show its ‘superiority’ through the torch relay.  It is trying to symbolically express that the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the sole legitimate government of all of China, and Taiwan is a dependent territory, which has been officially recognized by the UN, the IOC, and the nearly 200 nations that have diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC),” Susan Brownell, Chair of Department of Anthropology at University of Missouri, USA explains.

“This conflict will continue through the Beijing Olympic Games and the benefit might be that the rest of the world finally understands the conflict, and the importance of these national symbols to both sides.  Both political leaders and common people in China are strongly committed to the idea that Taiwan is a renegade province that must eventually be brought back into the fold.  If Taiwan makes any clear move toward a declaration of independence the mainland is prepared to act militarily and in other ways, even if it damages the Beijing Olympic Games.  The rest of the world needs to understand this.  For China, it is a question of national sovereignty,” she tells Play the Game.

IOC is backing China's political agenda with the Games
The last weeks' controversy on the Olympic torch relay also included Tibetan independence activists, who accused the IOC of backing China's "political agenda" with the Games, letting China strengthen and legitimize its control over Tibet while allowing the Olympic torch through the regional capital of Lhasa and to Mount Everest.

"China should not be allowed to hold the Olympics as they have been continually violating human rights in Tibet," Tsering Thadup, who runs the Tibetan Refugee Centre in Kathmandu, said. He said China should lose the right to host the Games.

But IOC members refused to comment on the critique, saying the organization did not engage in political issues.

Amnesty International published a new report stating that The 2008 Olympic Games has become a catalyst for more repression in China, not less, and that China has failed to live up to promises to improve human rights for the 2008 Olympics.

"The IOC cannot want an Olympics that is tainted with human rights abuses,” the deputy Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International, Catherine Baber said to Associated Press.

International Campaign on Tibet published a report backing Amnesty International saying that China is still failing to comply with its Olympics commitments, particularly with regard to Tibet - even though the IOC declared the Games would “improve the human rights situation in China,” according to unpo.org.

“When no improvements in the human rights situation in China have happened yet, it will not happen before the Olympic Games, unless some unforeseen, dramatic event will break everything. China is putting all kinds of effort into the preparation of the Games. They need to prove they can be in charge of a world event like this. Nothing can touch the Olympics in China,” Jørgen Delman, China expert, PhD and Director of Nordic Institute of Asian Studies in Copenhagen says to Play the Game.

”A lot of political interests and organizations use the 2008 Olympics to expose their demands and interest. They wish to challenge and tease China and expose the sides of China which are not shown through the Olympics. China on the contrary uses the situation as well, to show it is a super power and a valid member of the international society. But China does not want their legitimacy threatened and does not like the attention paid to the problematic issues that are not solved in China,” Delman explains.

Human rights groups condemned China over policies about Darfur
Human rights groups have condemned China over its policies about Sudan's Darfur, where state-linked militia have been fighting rebels, causing widespread bloodshed.

Amnesty International accused Russia and China of breaching a United Nations arms embargo by letting weapons into Sudan, where they are used in ‘grave violations’ of international law.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu dismissed suggestions that China was continuing to sell arms to Sudan, saying Beijing has strict rules about its arms exports. She said such accusations were "totally unreasonable".

Groups have urged a boycott of Beijing's 2008 Olympic Games, a sentiment echoed by some politicians in the French presidential race. The newly appointed French foreign minister, Dr Bernard Kouchner, who campaigned for Ségolène Royal, upset diplomats by supporting her call to threaten a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics to curb Chinese support for the Sudanese Government over Darfur, British Timesonline reported.

Pressure grew when a letter signed by 106 US lawmakers was sent to the Chinese President. They warned of a public relations disaster if Beijing does not use its sway over Sudan to help curtail the violence.

"It would be a disaster for China if the Games were to be marred by protests, from concerned individuals and groups, who will undoubtedly link your government to the continued atrocities in Darfur, if there is no significant improvement in the conditions," said a letter issued by California Democratic Tom Lantos, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs according to Reuters. The letter warned that China's supplying of arms and other support to the Khartoum regime could tarnish the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Chinese foreign minister condemns effort to politicize the Games
China 's foreign minister warned last Friday that attempts to politicize Beijing's Olympic Games by linking them to the Darfur crisis in Sudan or other issues will fail.

"There are a handful of people who are trying to politicize the Olympic Games," Yang Jiechi said at a news briefing with British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett.

"Their objectives ... will never be attained," AP reports.

The Olympic Games has always been an act of politics.

“Olympic sport is political, and that is what gives it the potential to contribute to world peace.  It is an alternative to the mainstream diplomatic channels that often reach dead ends,” Brownell explains.

A positive outcome of the 2008 Games might be a better understanding between the West and China.

“Chinese leaders and Chinese people have their own worldview, and they tend to believe that the Western powers use human rights as a pretext to keep China from emerging as a world political power.  While simplistic, this view is probably correct.  The Western powers do not want China to emerge as a world political power unless it shows that it will play by Western rules. What could happen through the process of hosting the Olympic Games is that Chinese leaders would come to better understand the Western worldview so that, rather than rejecting it outright, they could engage in more constructive dialogues.  Of course, the West ought to take that initiative as well, but since it is the one in the position of power, I think it is less likely to try to understand the Chinese worldview,” Brownell says.  

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