The 2008 Beijing Olympics

2007-11-19

in Bombs and rockets, Canada, Law, Politics

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.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

tristan November 19, 2007 at 10:36 pm

If the American economy is really as weak as some fear, then Canada has no choice but to compromise its human rights interests in favour of its economic interests in fostering a strong trading relationship with China. This signals a move away from the rhetoric of democracy and human rights as principles of foreign policy. Hopefully it won’t be mirrored by a move away from those principles in domestic. policy.

R.K. November 20, 2007 at 8:50 am

When boycotts happen, you really have to feel bad for the athletes who worked so hard. Perhaps it would be better if the Olympics weren’t used as a political token.

Milan November 20, 2007 at 9:30 am

Tristan,

If the American economy falters, economic ties with China aren’t very likely to help us out. 85% of our exports go to the U.S. and out economies are intimately linked. The economic importance of China to Canada isn’t a sufficient reason to ignore their persistent disregard for human rights.

Also, if we do make an exception for China because it is fast-growing economically, the message that sends to every other vile regime (Saudi Arabia?) is that the morality professed by states like Canada is secondary to crass number games.

When boycotts happen, you really have to feel bad for the athletes who worked so hard. Perhaps it would be better if the Olympics weren’t used as a political token.

To an extent this is true. At the same time, the Olympics are political for the athletes as well.

. November 20, 2007 at 9:43 am

No Olympic Games without democracy!

Reporters Without Borders calls on the National Olympic Committees, the IOC, athletes, sports lovers and human rights activists to publicly express their concern about the countless violations of every fundamental freedom in China.

After Beijing was awarded the games in 2001, Harry Wu, a Chinese dissident who spent 19 years in prisons in China, said he deeply regretted that China did not have “the honour and satisfaction of hosting the Olympic Games in a democratic country.”

Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky’s outraged comment about the holding of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow – “Politically, a grave error; humanly, a despicable act; legally, a crime” – remains valid for 2008.

Anon November 20, 2007 at 9:54 am

“If the American economy is really as weak as some fear”

The entire market in subprime debt is just 1.4% of the size of global equity markets. Or, to put it another way, a 1.4% downward fluctuation in stocks erases the same amount of value as if all subprime-backed bonds were collectively marked to $0.

Tristan November 20, 2007 at 10:18 am

The Olympics were revived due to worries about the decline of man as the decline of his physical ability. It’s stupid. We should stop doing them entirely.

I hate Athletes, they’re a waste of valuable resources. Actually, I’ll rephrase that. I hate professional athletes, but I understand professional in terms of the amount of other peoples money that is spent on an athlete – I don’t care whether that money comes from a wage or from supplementing training funding.

Olympic atheletes are no less a ridiculous use of money than professional hockey players – but theres a difference, hockey players get paid out of the market and the olympians are paid for with tax dollars.

Anonymous November 20, 2007 at 1:21 pm

Re: human rights,

Guantanamo Bay

The credibility of the West is shot.

. November 20, 2007 at 4:23 pm

On current American economic happenings: A dollar for your thoughts

Sarah November 20, 2007 at 9:16 pm

If such a boycott occurred there would surely be a grave danger that the Chinese would (in reaction) refuse to attend the 2010 Vancouver winter games. Unless the Canadian government is prepared for the risk that political controversies over China will overshadow the 2010 games (and I sincerely doubt that they want to risk this) then they probably have to play along with 2008.

Edward November 22, 2007 at 7:29 pm

I disagree with a boycott for the same reason as R.K. – it unfairly punishes the athletes who have committed a significant portion of their lives working towards the opportunity to represent their country in sport.

While China’s human rights record is certainly deplorable, I question the utility of holding our athletes in the political crossfire. I question whether demanding that our athletes not compete in Beijing would cause China to suddenly change its domestic and foreign policy. Quite frankly, I don’t believe it would make an iota of difference.

I hope that human rights violations will some day end in China. But I simply don’t believe that Canada’s boycott of its Olympics will make any difference in the matter. Sure it would be an inconvenience to Chinese officials. Sure we’d be raining on their parade a little. But annoying them a little isn’t going to get them to suddenly give up Tibet. Let’s be a little realistic.

If we really want China to respect human rights, we need to hit where it hurts most: economically. This means that we (and more importantly, the rest of the world) need to stop investing in China until it cleans up its act. Of course, in many cases, China’s lax human rights code and cheap labour are the exact reasons why companies choose to invest there. If governments are sincere about stopping human rights violations in China (rather than just talking about it to make themselves feel good), then they’ll need to apply that sort of economic pressure on Beijing. Embarrassing China to get human rights concessions simply won’t happen; applying economic pressure might.

Milan November 22, 2007 at 7:59 pm

I disagree with a boycott for the same reason as R.K. – it unfairly punishes the athletes who have committed a significant portion of their lives working towards the opportunity to represent their country in sport.

I think it is fair to say that the Olympics are as much about politics as they are about sports. There is a reason why flags and anthems are everywhere – just as there is a reason for which Olympic boycotts are valid political tools.

Guantanamo Bay

The credibility of the West is shot.

One facility that has been protested by countless thoughtful individuals in the West cannot be considered an indictment against all of them.

Unless the Canadian government is prepared for the risk that political controversies over China will overshadow the 2010 games (and I sincerely doubt that they want to risk this) then they probably have to play along with 2008.

I agree that the Canadian government will do no such thing as boycott the games. I am simply arguing that it would be a right and courageous stance.

Embarrassing China to get human rights concessions simply won’t happen; applying economic pressure might.

I disagree. China has plenty of money (certainly enough for whatever Canada invests to be a meaningless trifle). What the regime lacks is international legitimacy. Trying to get it is a major reason for holding the games. Objections from conscientious countries could play an important role in undermining the facade of China as a responsible state. Such boycotts would also have a big effect on global media coverage.

Milan November 22, 2007 at 8:02 pm

The Olympics were revived due to worries about the decline of man as the decline of his physical ability. It’s stupid. We should stop doing them entirely.

This has little or nothing to do with the discussion at hand.

. March 25, 2008 at 2:36 pm

Boycott Beijing
The Olympics are the perfect place for a protest.
By Anne Applebaum

The Olympics are a force for good. Not always! For those who don’t remember, let me remind you that the 1936 Olympics, held in Nazi Germany, were an astonishing propaganda coup for Hitler. It’s true that the star performance of Jesse Owens, the great black American track-and-field star, did shoot some holes in the Nazi theory of Aryan racial superiority. But Hitler still got what he wanted out of the games. With the help of American newspapers such as the New York Times, which opined that the games put Germany “back in the family of nations again,” he convinced many Germans, and many foreigners, to accept Nazism as “normal.” The Nuremburg laws were in force, German troops had marched into the Rhineland, Dachau was full of prisoners, but the world cheered athletes in Berlin. As a result, many people, both in and out of Germany, reckoned that everything was just fine, and Hitler could be tolerated a bit longer.

No wonder, then, that everyone who hates or fears China, whether in Burma, Darfur, Tibet, or Beijing, is calling for a boycott. And the Chinese government and the IOC are terrified that they will succeed. No one involved in the preparations for this year’s Olympics really believes that this is “only about the athletes,” or that the Beijing Games will be an innocent display of sporting prowess, or that they bear no relation to Chinese politics. I don’t see why the rest of us should believe it, either.

. April 11, 2008 at 1:31 pm

Welcome to the Olympics

Mar 27th 2008 | BEIJING
From The Economist print edition

“There is relief in Beijing that no Western government has yet called for a boycott of the opening ceremony of the games, let alone of the event itself. But officials are acutely aware that Tibet grips public attention in the West far more than China’s connections with Sudan—hitherto the main stalking horse of critics of Beijing’s Olympics. A Western diplomat says China would have to start “mowing people down in the streets” to precipitate government-led boycotts of the games. This discounts the dozens who exiled Tibetans say have already died in the crackdown. And the coming months will provide much opportunity for miscalculation by China in its handling of Tibetan unrest.”

. May 30, 2008 at 3:54 pm

It was a mistake to award this summer’s Olympics to Beijing.First, the city is not technically ready to host the event. Second, the Games are making the political system more repressive.

The Olympic Games mean different things to different people. To the athletes they represent the culmination of years of ambition and hard work.

Charles Freeman argues that no government is without sin and that there should be no political litmus test for hosting the Games.

The Olympic Games are not a carrot given by one government to another to reward good behaviour.

. July 27, 2011 at 7:23 pm

It is also a great victory for China’s government for the extent to which it validates its legal system. Canada and its independent judiciary are in effect saying that the Chinese legal system can be taken at its word. When China says “we won’t torture or kill Lai”, it now seems that even such high-minded people as Canadian judges are willing to believe them. That in itself is extraordinary. A dozen of Mr Lai’s closest confidantes have been executed in China over the years since his case came to light and both his brother and his accountant died in prison in unexplained circumstances. A report published last week counted 72 Chinese billionaires who died of unnatural causes over the past eight years: 14 of them executed by the state. China is frequently criticised for its abusive penal system. How the Chinese lawyers managed to persuade the Canadians that the unpopular Mr Lai can be kept safe is hard to see.

But not impossible. Beijing applied unrelenting pressure for ten years on Canada: withholding visa privileges, scuppering trade deals, snubbing high officials. Canadian officials decided years ago that they could make life much easier for themselves if only they could give China what it wanted. Judges stood in their way until now. Against growing political pressure and ever more clever assurances by Beijing they eventually found reasons of their own to relent.

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