It is important to understand what is going on in China. A good place to start is with the U.S. State Department 2007 Country Report Human Rights Practices in China. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices are submitted annually by the U.S. Department of State to the U.S. Congress and are required to be “a full and complete report regarding the status of internationally recognized human rights.” If you want to know what the U.S. Government thinks is going on in China, human rights-wise, then read that report.
Learn about the history of the People’s Republic of China and how the triumph of communism affected China’s relationship with the United States for the last sixty years.
Learn about China’s relations with Taiwan and the One China Policy.
Understand that 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in China.
Recognize that, while organized political opposition is still prohibited, individual rights in China are slowly improving. Maybe they are not where they should be. But they are better than they were. Individual Chinese are now allowed to decide for themselves many of the things that were formerly dictated by the state. School, jobs, marriage, travel. All of these things have been gradually freed over the years.
Understand that while China is not as hard diplomatically on other repressive countries as we might like them to be, they are getting better at international cooperation.
The reality is this: China sought to host the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games for the purpose of shining the spotlight on what it has become. Well, Hu Jintao probably didn’t grow up watching The Facts of Life like we did. In doing so, we learned that “you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have” the facts of China in the world today.
So, shine the spotlight. Create awareness. Awareness of the bad things. But also, I think, realize the good things that are still happening. Welcome the People’s Republic of China into the world community with open arms so that the government understands the weight and responsibility of what we expect of a full international partner.
Once you know a little bit more about China today, we can get down to answering questions regarding an Olympic response.
What, if anything, should President Bush do?
President George Bush should attend the full Olympics, as scheduled. Opening Ceremonies and all.
I arrive at this conclusion because I think that the relationship between the United States and China is too important, and probably too fragile, to risk insulting the Chinese at their coming out party. The United States needs China. China needs the United States. It is likely that these two countries will be the two most influential nations in the world over the next fifty years. As such, I think that it is important that each of them do what they can to maintain a level of trust and respect for each other. I feel that if President Bush were to slight the Chinese people and government by boycotting even the Opening Ceremony, the damage to the relationship caused by such an action would far outweigh the benefits.
The United States has been cajoling China regarding rights abuses for decades. Sometimes its a public admonition. Sometimes its done within the relative privacy of discussions between leaders. These are actions that should certainly be continued. I just think that it is important for the United States government to pick and choose its battles.
If discretion is the better part of valor, then I think that the 2008 Beijing Olympics is one of those cases where the United States government would be wise to lay off. What happens to the Six Party Talks regarding North Korea if the United States is too aggressive on this issue? What happens on other issues where the United States needs Chinese support?
You are of course free to make your own value judgments as to the importance of each of these international issues relative to rights abuses in China. I just don’t think that a boycott by President Bush is likely to produce enough of a positive effect on rights abuses such that it would outweigh the damages done to U.S./Chinese relations and thus our ability to work together to solve other issues.
What, if anything, should other Nations do?
You know the old, good-cop, bad-cop routine? I think that this may be a time where it could effectively be utilized. The United States plays the good cop. A smallish group of leaders from other countries can be the bad cop by quietly boycotting the Opening Ceremony.
Human Rights abuses in China are an issue that many people feel strongly about. We have seen with the recent goings-on in Tibet that the Chinese government can certainly be repressive. The staging of the Olympic Games in China provides a unique opportunity for the leaders of the world to project displeasure at the existence of these abuses.
As I’ve argued however, I think that it is important to understood that the projection of this displeasure is likely to have negative relationship consequences. It is fairly probable that the economic relationships between any country that decides to boycott and China will not be subjected to too much harm. As I’ve said with the United States, I think that the true danger is in degrading the willingness of China to work with other nations to solve international issues that will be harmed.
As an example, how will Angela Merkel’s failure to attend the Opening Ceremonies harm the ability of the international community to resolve issues? Germany is certainly an economic power. It is however, in my opinion, not that much of a leader on the international political stage. Germany will often fall in line and lend support to the resolution of various issues. It is not often however where the Germans take the league on such matters. As such, this seems to me to be a situation where Germany can play “bad cop.” An Opening Ceremony boycott would lend weight to the international community’s calls for the Chinese to play nice, while at the same time harming future relations less than such an action by the United States might have.
Again, that’s just an example. I’m not calling for the German’s to boycott. I’m merely asserting that limited boycotts by selective world leaders is probably enough government on government pressure in this instance.
What, if anything, should the athletes do?
I actually initiated coverage of the 2008 Games after the International Olympic Committee published their Blogging Guidelines. When the IOC published these guidelines I was initially taken aback by their strictness and the IOC’s strong advocacy for the de-politicization of the Games.
As I’ve thought about the issue more and more, I’m inclined to back off from that position. To accept the notion that the Olympic Games should be focused on athletic achievement. I still think that athletes should be allowed to be political if they want to be. It really should be up to the conscience of the individual athlete however. I think that it is probably unfair to ask them to assert their opinions, thereby risking, in whatever small amount, their careers and livelihoods.
I’m sure that there will be athletes that take some sort of stand. If they feel it necessary, good for them. I will not however make any sorts of calls for them to politicize what likely will be the pinnacle of their athletic careers.
What, if anything, should you do?
I’ve argued in the past that the world often distinguishes a difference between the actions and opinions of the United States from the actions and opinions of the American people. This is one situation where I believe that we may be able to utilize that split to advance the cause of human rights in China.
Again, I think that the primary risk associated with potential boycotts is that we insult the Chinese people, thereby doing significant damage to the Chinese people’s view of us and the world. The 2008 Beijing Olympics are no ordinary event. The nation of China and the people of China have spent enormous energy with the goal of presenting an Olympic Games for the world. More significantly however, they have spent enormous energy over the last few decades transforming their country, modernizing and integrating with the world. You’ve got to believe that they, the people, are extremely proud of this.
In a recent survey called Project 2008 Poll, 72 percent Chinese responded that they are proud of China. For hundreds or thousands of years China was the world’s most advanced civilization. The Chinese invented paper, printing, the compass, and gunpowder. Now, after centuries of isolation, colonial domination and “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” China is back.
The Chinese people are throwing a party that the international community endorsed. Since China was awarded the Games, they really have been on fairly good behavior. Learn more about China its people and its politics. Learn about what life was like under Mao. Compare that to today. Maybe its not ideal. But its certainly not end of the world.
But, just because things are better doesn’t mean that pressure shouldn’t be applied. That awareness shouldn’t be spread. I just think that it would be better if awareness was spread in a responsible manner that recognized the full array of issues.
Protests are one way of dealing with these issues. Perhaps however, this is one issue that would be better for us to embrace the Chinese, people to people. Express solidarity, not disdain. Cool our collective egos a little bit.
As I said, I definitely don’t have all the answers and I really am not sure, yet, what I think about this issue. Over the next few months I’ll continue to post articles and links so that we can all learn about China, its people and its politics.