World-Class Abusers? China's Olympic Bid


Human-rights activists say that if medals were awarded for egregious abuses of freedoms, China would get the gold.

As the International Olympic Committee met in Moscow, Beijing was poised to take home the gold: the right to host the 2008 Summer Olympics.

But opponents of China's Communist regime compared "Beijing 2008" to the 1936 Olympics in Hitler's Germany, a publicity windfall for the tyrant.

"It's China's bid to lose," said Dick Schultz, former executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee before the July 13 vote. "There's a real desire to bring the Games to China," he said, speaking from his experience with the Sydney and Athens Olympic Games. China lost its 2000 Olympic bid to Sydney by only two votes.

While not ruling out a last-minute upset, he said that the International Olympic Committee "feels this would be a great benefit to China and the rest of the world."

Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., was pushing a House resolution to ask the U.S. Olympic Committee to vote against holding the Games in Beijing. Alternative sites include Toronto and Paris.

But Schultz warned that U.S. government action could "create an opposite reaction from other members of the international community," and pointed out that the United States would stand virtually alone among governments if it condemned Beijing's bid.

Schultz said he thought a Beijing Olympics might ease human rights conditions in China. "There's a lot of scrutiny on China right now," he said, "but nothing compared to what it will be if they get the Games. For the next six and a half years China will be exposed in a way they've never been exposed before."

That extra exposure has already started - and what it revealed dismayed many human rights advocates. In June, China detained six scholars on espionage charges. Two, Li Shaomin and Wu Jianmin, are American citizens, while the other four were U.S. residents.

On June 8, Sidney Jones, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division, sent a letter to outgoing International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch asking that he get a firm commitment from China that the Olympics would be open to all foreign journalists and that the Games wouldn't become an opportunity for a government crackdown. Jones said she had received no answer from Samaranch.

Schultz pointed out, "China's expected to do a lot of other things to get the Games," such as making commitments to house the enormous crowds of athletes and spectators. "Why shouldn't their human rights record be a part of that?"

The Human Rights Watch letter said that "every previous major international event that China has hosted, from the 1990 East Asian Games to the 1995 International Women's Conference, has been preceded by arrests designed to eliminate any sign of protest or dissent, and evictions of migrants or homeless people whose presence might be considered unsightly."

The letter also charged China with "refusing visas to journalists and to individuals linked in some way to Taiwan, Tibet or Xinjiang, or to organizations that have taken stands critical of Chinese government policies."

Jones warned that China was engaging in "crass manipulation" of the Olympic committee by strategically releasing a few high-profile detainees.

Jones said she expected the trials of the American scholars to be part of that manipulation. "Whether any of these individuals were involved in anything remotely resembling espionage is unlikely," she said. "We expect two will be released after their trials, but they will be convicted first, after forced confessions."

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom, cited the "tremendous religious persecution that is continuing to take place in China" as reason to deny the government "the chance to bolster their own international reputation through the privilege of hosting the Olympics."

Shea warned that the Communist leadership would "use the Olympics as political propaganda theater," pointing to the 1936 Olympics as a precedent. While she was quick to note that China's human rights violations do not approach Hitler's, she said that the two regimes would use the Games similarly to win political support.

Shea added that since China represses many religious groups, from Hindus to Catholics, "spectators will not be able to practice their religion freely when they get there." For example, Catholics might not be able to find a priest in communion with Rome, since China's government outlaws all but "patriotic," government-controlled Christian groups.

Neither Jones nor Shea thought the United States should boycott a Beijing Olympics, as it did the 1980 Olympics in Communist Moscow. "The damage has already been done" by that point, Jones said.

But she argued, "The Olympic ideal is more than just sports. Saying that systematic abuse of human rights doesn't matter would violate the Olympic spirit."

The Chinese Embassy in the United States could not be reached by press time. But an International Olympic Committee poll showed 96% support in Beijing and other Chinese urban areas for the Chinese bid.

Yang Jiechi , Chinese ambassador to the United States, argued, in an April 23 speech, that opposition to Beijing's bid represented the last remnants of a "Cold War mentality." Yang said, "Stop using human rights as an issue to attack China, stop [the] actual support for the evil cult Falun Gong, stop opposing Beijing's bid for the Olympics."

The "evil cult" remark was a tip-off for those who oppose China's bid, and who decry its crackdown on the Falun Gong sect. Robert Menard, chairman of the international press group Reporters sans Frontières, told reporters, "To me it seems just as monstrous to hold the Olympic Games in China in 2008 as it was to have held them in Berlin in 1936."

The Paris-based organization said China should get one award, at least: the "Gold medal for human rights violations."


Eve Tushnet. "World-Class Abusers? China's Olympic Bid Sparks Protests." National Catholic Register. (July 15, 2001).

This article is reprinted with permission from National Catholic Register. To subscribe to the National Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.


Eve Tushnet is a staff writer for National Catholic Register.

Copyright © 2001 National Catholic Register

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