The Chinese government intends for the 2008 Beijing Olympics to be a kind of coming out party for China’s “peaceful rise.” Certainly, the last few decades have been remarkable: growth has persisted around 10% and hundreds of millions of people have risen out of extreme poverty. At the same time, the Chinese government has much to answer for. Democracy and human rights are both black marks on the Chinese record – both domestically and in terms of their international relations. Because of the unacceptable character of a number of Chinese policies, Canada should boycott the games.
The first set of unacceptable policies are domestic. These include suppression of free speech and the media, as well as the repression of political and apolitical organizations (such as Falun Gong). China also executes more people than any other state, with some allegations going as far as to say that people are being killed so that their organs can be harvested. Ethnic minorities are likewise suppressed in China, with Tibet being a special case. Well corroborated accounts exist of torture by various governmental entities.
Chinese foreign policy is also not in keeping with minimum standards of acceptable conduct. China continually threatens to attack against Taiwan, with hundreds of missiles pointed across the strait. As Paul Collier details, they are also known for adopting ‘no questions’ policies in relation to truly awful regimes, such as the genocidal government of Sudan. China has actively undermined efforts by the international community to put pressure on such governments to cease their human rights violations. International law now clearly recognizes that state sovereignty provides no protection for a government that is committing atrocities. The continuing Chinese insistence on strict non-intervention undermines the degree to which international norms can be manifested, and helps to keep large numbers of people in unacceptable conditions.
The Beijing party is one that deserves to be spoiled, lest China gain international legitimacy on the basis of economic growth rather than acceptable moral and legal conduct. Concerns about things like labour and environmental standards are certainly relevant, as well, but it is the status of the Chinese government as a violator of human rights – and facilitator of their violation by others – that makes them unfit to host the Olympics. Canada coming out and acknowledging this publicly could encourage other states concerned with human rights and international law to carry out boycotts of their own. Through international peer pressure, there is hope that a government as concerned with prestige as the one in Beijing will reconsider some of its least popular policies.