Many more Western leaders are now prepared to speak out against Beijing’s repressive policies.
In a highly revealing comment on the ABC Radio National program PM, the head of the Australian Olympic Committee, John Coates, said that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was always aware that the Olympic torch relay would prompt protests over China’s human rights record, but that China had insisted that the torch relay proceed. (PM, April 14, 2008).
While China intended the 2008 Olympic Games to be a celebration of its coming-of-age as a great power, the Olympic torch relay is providing an unprecedented opportunity to focus on the appalling human rights record of the Communist regime in Beijing.
The protests which accompanied the torch relay in many cities, including Athens, London, Paris and San Francisco, highlighted the denial of human rights in Tibet, to which the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, referred repeatedly during his recent visit to China.
Although both China’s President, Hu Jintao, and Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, flatly rejected Mr Rudd’s concerns, there can be no doubt that his statements were carefully noted.
The international human rights organisation, Human Rights Watch, commented recently that the most serious conflicts could come in Tibet, if Beijing insists on having the torch relay pass through Tibet.
The media director of Human Rights Watch said recently, “The Chinese government has said that it will definitely run the relay through the Tibetan areas, across the base of Everest and through Lhasa. And that is a guaranteed situation where major human rights abuses will happen. The protests so far may be only the beginning, and there could be another major deadly crackdown on the horizon around the torch relay inside China.” (April 10).
In 2001, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2008 Olympic Games to Beijing, after the Beijing Organising Committee pledged that the hosting of the Games would “help the development of human rights”.
The Beijing Organising Committee also pledged: “There will be no restrictions on media reporting and movement of journalists up to and including the Olympic Games.”
On December 18, 2007, a conference at the European Parliament ended with a declaration by 12 European human rights organisations, six parliamentarians and four Sakharov Prize-winners that China had not made any substantial progress on human rights before the Games.
A recent sign of Beijing’s intolerance of dissent was the conviction of a courageous Chinese human rights activist, Hu Jia, on April 2, despite government promises that human rights would be improved by the Olympic Games.
Hu was detained last December on charges of “inciting subversion of state power and the socialist system”, because he had written articles critical of human rights abuses and spoken with foreign journalists.
The Beijing regime had specifically promised that foreign journalists would have complete freedom before and at the Olympic Games; but the same right is not extended to Chinese people who speak to them, apparently.
With characteristic understatement, the Wall Street Journal commented, “If Beijing wants to improve its human rights image in the run-up to the Olympic Games, it has a funny way of showing it.”
Further evidence of Western alarm over the current repression is seen in the willingness of many Western leaders to speak out, although a boycott of the Games is unlikely.
Some European politicians are planning to avoid the Olympics. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk was the first to announce that he would be staying away from the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games as a matter of principle.
Later, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier announced that they would not take part in the opening ceremonies either, but all three denied that their absence was a boycott.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would “reserve the right to say whether I will attend”. His decision will depend on the positions within the 27-member EU, whose presidency France takes over on July 1.
Among other high-profile arrests were Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer; Li Heping, a Christian lawyer based in Beijing and defender of political dissidents, human rights defenders and believers; and Chen Guangcheng, the blind human rights lawyer, who was sentenced to four years and three months’ imprisonment in March for speaking out against coercive family-planning practices in Shandong province.
It is our obligation to stand alongside the courageous people of China who are fighting for freedom of expression, belief and association; who respect the rule of law in the face of the dictatorship of the Communist Party; and who want to build a new China committed to freedom at home and peace throughout the world, as expressed in the Olympic ideal.
— Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.