August 23, 2008
Beijing’s Bad Faith Olympics
The Beijing Olympics still have one more day to run. But the final gold medal — for authoritarian image management — can already be safely awarded to China’s Communist Party leadership.
Beijing got what it wanted out of this globally televised spectacular. It reaped a huge prestige bonanza that it will surely use to promote its international influence and, we fear, further tighten its grip at home.
It pocketed these gains without offering any concessions in return. When it increased repression — rather than loosening up — a supine International Olympic Committee barely offered a protest. Most world leaders, including President Bush, were nearly as complicit.
In Beijing for the opening ceremony, Mr. Bush seemed eager to play the role of the apolitical sports fan, instead of publicly pressing China’s leaders on the ongoing Olympics crackdown. That nicely fit into the Chinese script of talking up sports while shutting down politics.
To win the right to host these Games, China promised to honor the Olympic ideals of nonviolence, openness to the world and individual expression. Those promises were systematically broken, starting with this spring’s brutal repression in Tibet and continuing on to the ugly farce of inviting its citizens to apply for legal protest permits and then arresting them if they actually tried to do so.
Along the way, government critics were pre-emptively rounded up and jailed, domestic news outlets tightly controlled, foreign journalists denied full access to the Internet and thousands of Beijing’s least telegenic residents were evicted from their homes and out of camera range. On Friday, the Chinese police confirmed that six Americans protesting China’s rule in Tibet had been sentenced to 10 days of detention.
Surely one of the signature events of these Games was the sentencing of two women in their late 70s to “re-education through labor.” Their crime? Applying for permission to protest the inadequate compensation they felt they had received when the government seized their homes years ago for urban redevelopment.
A year ago, the I.O.C. predicted that these Games would be “a force for good” and a spur to human-rights progress. Instead, as Human Rights Watch has reported, they became a catalyst for intensified human-rights abuse.
Mr. Bush has taken some note of China’s appalling human-rights record this summer — privately meeting with Chinese dissidents in Washington just before his visit to the Games and gently nudging his hosts on religious freedom while in Beijing. With these repression-scarred Olympics now drawing to a close, Mr. Bush and other world leaders must tell Beijing that its failure to live up to its Olympic commitments will neither be ignored nor forgotten.
The medal count and DVD sales cannot be the last word on the Beijing Games.