Boycott the Beijing Olympic Games?

Human Rights First is not calling for a boycott of the Beijing Olympic Games. However, the organization does think that the Beijing Olympics offer a unique opportunity to engage the government of China and pressure it to take concrete actions to improve its human rights record.

There are a growing number of communities and organizations that support a boycott of the Beijing Olympics due to China's abysmal human rights record both at home and abroad. The Chinese government has been particularly sensitive about calls for an Olympics boycott. This is understandable; China has worked hard to engineer the Beijing Olympics as its grand entry onto the twenty-first century stage as a harmonious and peaceful emerging world power.

Chinese Special Representative on the Darfur Issue Liu Guijin recently struck out against calls to boycott the Beijing Olympics. At a press conference held earlier this month upon Mr. Liu's return from his fourth trip to Sudan, a reporter asked him a question about calls for boycotting the Beijing Olympics because China was not doing enough to help end the violence in Darfur. Mr. Liu responded, "... for those few who attempt to tarnish the Olympic Games on the pretext of issues totally unrelated to the Olympics, like the Darfur issue, we are firmly opposed to such attempts."

Similarly, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi maintains that China is opposed to the "politicization" of the Beijing Olympics by trying to link the Games with human rights abuses occurring in places such as Darfur and Tibet. An Associated Press reporter recently asked Mr. Yang about the Chinese government's opposition to the politicization of the Beijing Olympics. Mr. Yang responded, "... not to politicize the Olympic Games is what is laid down in the Olympic Charter. Those people who attack China often talk about the importance of abiding by laws and regulations. Then why are they openly violating the relevant provisions of the Olympic Charter?" One implication Mr. Yang is apparently making in this statement is that China does not mix politics with the Olympics.

A look back in the history of Olympic boycotts is instructive here. As it turns out, China has actually boycotted the Olympic Games twice. The first instance was the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, to protest a decision allowing a delegation from Taiwan to participate in the Games. China also boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow in protest of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

Given China's past practice of engaging in Olympic boycotts, it seems disingenuous for China to claim that the current calls for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics are nothing more than attempts to politicize the Games. No doubt China views its boycotts of the Olympic Games in 1956 and 1980 as much more than political stunts.

It is time that China take seriously the human rights grievances that are being raised by its critics in the lead up to the Beijing Olympics and take concrete steps to resolve them. For instance, China should immediately halt its arms sales to Sudan and stop obstructing efforts in the United Nations Security Council to help resolve the crisis in Darfur. Such actions would contribute in helping to preserve a positive image of the Beijing Olympic Games.

posted by Eric Sears at 9:32 PM

Copyright © 2008 Human Rights First

Published in: – 2008/03/boycott-beijing-olympic-games.html