China needs image boost before the Olympic Games |

China needs image boost before the Olympic Games

Guy W. Farmer
For the Appeal

With the U.S. image deteriorating around the world due to the war in Iraq, China isn’t far behind in the race to the bottom of the international image sweepstakes. While American politicians struggle with Iraq policy, China needs to work on its image before hosting the 2008 Olympic Games.

In recent weeks, China has come under fire for exporting dangerous consumer products, and is under increasing pressure to resolve serious environmental and human-rights problems before the world’s top athletes descend on Beijing next summer. This is a major challenge for a huge totalitarian state where dissent is squelched by force, if necessary.

In recent weeks, U.S. government inspectors have taken action against a wide variety of Chinese agricultural products and manufactured goods, including toys. Those products have included pesticide- or additive-laced shipments of plums, lemons, star fruits, kumquats, scallions and ginseng blocked by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with other imports.

According to the Washington Post, the Chinese government pushed the use of chemicals to increase food output in the 1980s, but now, “in light of research on the dangers of pesticides, the state has been trying to break farmers of their dependence on them.”

Although that government has sent thousands of agricultural specialists to rural areas in recent years to teach the safe use of pesticides, the Post continued, “those efforts are only able to reach 20 to 30 percent of farmers.” Which might make you think twice next time you’re tempted to buy cheap Chinese produce at our local supermarkets.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that “China is facing a global backlash following discoveries of high levels of chemicals and toxins in a range of Chinese exports from toothpaste and seafood to pet food and toys.” The Chinese responded in part by blaming American toy manufacturer Mattel for using the lead paint that prompted the recall of millions of popular toys.

After those revelations, a timely Denver Post editorial asked whether American consumers can trust Chinese products. “It’s time for the Bush administration and American businesses to send China a strong message that it needs to change its ways,” the editorial declared. “Too many of the products China is sending to the U.S. pose health and safety risks.”

At the same time American companies “must take responsibility for going the cheaper route” by manufacturing toys in China, the paper added. “American consumers need to speak out with their wallets and let Mattel and other companies know that they will start looking past the cheap price tags and focus more on product safety.” Are you listening, Wal-Mart?

Human Rights

Those of us who remember the bloody 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre know that China continues to have very troubling human-rights problems. Just last month, the Washington Post noted, “China celebrated the one-year countdown to the Beijing Olympics” with festivities and fireworks. Simultaneously, 40 well-known scholars, lawyers and writers released an open letter to Chinese and world leaders expressing deep concerns over China’s human-rights policies.

The letter advocated amnesty for political prisoners, the return of exiles, greater press freedom, and protection for residents evicted from their homes to make way for the Olympics.

International organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have reported on the worsening human-rights situation in China. According to their investigators, “the upcoming Olympics have been used as an excuse … to squash political dissidents and quash embarrassing news. In cracking down on journalists, activists, petitioners and Internet users, China is tarnishing the Olympics,” they concluded.

The motto of the Beijing Olympics is “One World, One Dream.” The Washington Post recommends changing it to “One World, One Dream, Universal Human Rights.” That would be a good start, although I doubt whether the Chinese government would agree. Its leaders would rather continue their repressive ways in order to remain in power.

As Georgetown University Prof. Victor Cha wrote in the Post last month, “China will seek to portray the Games as Beijing’s coming-out party, showcasing its rapid economic growth and prosperity … (however) Beijing must find a way to join its closed and controlled political system with the classic liberal ideals of individualism, open competition and respect for human dignity embodied in the Olympics. Cha’s bottom-line question is whether China will repeat the 1936 Berlin Olympics, when Hitler tried to validate his brutal police state, or whether the 2008 Games will usher in a more-constructive Chinese role in the international community. Let’s hope for the latter.


The Appeal’s excellent gang supplement, published last weekend, noted that more than 70 percent of the city’s gang-bangers are Hispanics. Nevertheless, only one Spanish-speaker, Community Outreach Coordinator Javier Ramirez, spoke out on the gang problem, saying “they need to educate about the impact of gangs … at an early age.” Not “they,” Javier. “We,” because we’re all in this together.

• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.