As Canadian athletes prepare themselves for competition (in which I wish them good luck), I am continuing my personal boycott of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games. Following the most recent embarrassing statement from International Olympic Committee Chair Jacques Rogge regarding previous statements on freedom of the press in the People’s Republic of China, I was pleased to see Canadian IOC delegate Dick Pound raise some overdue criticism of China and the distant international committee. But Pound’s criticisms only touched the surface of a larger issue which the IOC has chosen to ignore — the dire state of human rights and political freedoms in China.
In 1999, as recently quoted by Ken Silverstein, Condoleezza Rice stated that: “Economic liberalization in China is ultimately going to lead to political liberalization. That’s an iron law.” Nine years later, the “iron law” of economic liberalization seems to have come along with iron shackles, rather than the political liberalization Rice may have had in mind.
A March 2008 report from the U.S. Department of State describes the People’s Republic of China as “an authoritarian state” with a poor human rights record which has seen“tightening restrictions on freedom of speech and the press” including “increased efforts to control and censor the Internet.” The report also accuses Chinese authorities of other human rights abuses including “extrajudicial killings, torture and coerced confessions of prisoners, and the use of forced labor, including prison labor. The government continued to monitor, harass, detain, arrest, and imprison journalists, writers, activists, and defense lawyers and their families, many of whom were seeking to exercise their rights under law.”
So, I’m left with a couple of questions: Why did the IOC believe that it was appropriate to reward an authoritarian regime such as China’s with the international prestige of the Olympic Games? And will the international attention for the games force China into the “political liberalization” that Rice predicted?