Boycott not the best way to protest human rights abuses

The semi-secret Olympic torch relay in San Francisco Wednesday was an embarrassing harbinger of things to come as the U.S. and other western democracies determine how to deal with this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing, China. San Francisco and Olympic officials were forced to hold torch ceremonies in secret because thousands of angry demonstrators filled the city's streets to protest human rights abuses by China's Communist government.

Some international observers want to boycott the Beijing Olympics because of the Chinese government's bloody crackdown on Tibetan dissidents and its wholesale human rights violations. Although I oppose a boycott because I don't want to punish the athletes, I think President Bush and our government should be more forceful in holding China's feet to the fire on human rights.

Much as Hitler did in bringing the 1936 Olympics to Nazi Germany, China's leaders wanted to hold the Games in Beijing in order to legitimize their repressive regime. As a recent Washington Post editorial noted, "This year's games were to mark (China's) debut as a global power, with a booming economy and rapidly modernizing society. Instead, it's beginning to look as the though the games could become a showcase for violent repression, censorship and political persecution ..." Not a pretty picture.

In a moderate response to China's crackdown on protesters, President Bush urged his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, to halt the violence in Lhasa and to consult with representatives of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader. U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was more outspoken, calling on Bush and the world to denounce China's brutal tactics in Tibet and describing the crisis as "a challenge to the conscience of the world."

"If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against Chinese oppression, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world," Pelosi said during a recent visit to the Dalai Lama in Dharmsala, India, where the Tibetan leader has lived in exile for many years.

Street protests against Chinese oppression in Tibet turned violent in mid-March, prompting a brutal response by China, which sent armed troops into the streets of Lhasa. The Chinese government says 22 people have died so far in the rioting, while Tibetan exiles claim that the death toll is closer to 140. Downtown Lhasa began to resemble Beijing's Tiananmen Square, where hundreds of democracy advocates were slaughtered in 1989. Meanwhile, as Red Army troops were killing unarmed protesters, the U.S. State Department inexplicably removed China from its annual list of the world's worst human rights offenders - a decision that made no sense.

"The world community has a real responsibility to bring China into the mainstream," the Dalai Lama told Time magazine in an interview late last year. He asserted that the whole world stands to gain from a peaceful approach, especially the 6 million Tibetans in China and Chinese-occupied Tibet, which Beijing considers to be a Chinese province. "Genuine harmony must come from the heart," the Dalai Lama added. "It cannot come from the barrel of a gun."


So why is the U.S. government being so cautious about China's violent crackdown in Tibet? Could it have something to do with the fact that American and international businesses are heavily invested in the Beijing Olympics? Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum answered that question by quoting a Samsung Electronics executive as saying that "the Olympic Games are not a place for demonstrations." A Coca Cola spokesman chimed-in that "it would be inappropriate to comment on the political situation of individual nations."

But Ms. Applebaum countered that "the Olympics seem an ideal place for demonstrations. Not only are the world's media there with cameras running, but the modern Olympics were set up with a political purpose: To promote international peace by encouraging healthy competition among nations. Hence, the emphasis on national teams instead of individual competitors ..." Good point.

And when French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested a boycott, International Olympic Committee Chairman Jacques Rogge of Belgium was quick to declare that "a boycott doesn't solve anything." Well, maybe not, but as Ms. Applebaum wrote, "The boycott of South Africa by international competitions was probably the single most effective weapon ... ever deployed against the apartheid state. And the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics helped undermine Soviet propaganda about the invasion of Afghanistan and helped unify the western world against it."

With that in mind, I think President Bush should join Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in refusing to attend Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing in August. Because, as that recent Washington Post editorial noted, "It looks increasingly likely that the (Beijing) Olympics will serve to remind the world not of China's emerging greatness but of its continuing denial of freedom to its citizens, its repression of minorities and its amoral alliances with rogue states." Let the tainted games begin!

• Guy W. Farmer, a retired American diplomat and lifelong sports fan, resides in Carson City.


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