As the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympics draws near, the Chinese authorities are cranking on all cylinders to capitalize on the chance to showcase China’s rising political and economic power.
There is little doubt that Beijing can and will quickly turn the capital city into an Olympic-caliber host city. With the whole country’s resources at its disposal, Beijing can spend whatever is needed to construct stadiums, deploy security systems, and build up other associated facilities. So far, Beijing has put into play the largest Olympic budget in history, which is believed to be north of US$40 billion, easily eclipsing the 2004 Athens Olympics budget of US$12 billion. In order to address concerns about the city’s monstrous air pollution, Beijing can shut down factories and limit the number of vehicles entering the city during the Games.
It is even mulling the use of missile technology to dispel clouds over the city and ensure a sunny Games. However, China’s communist government has few answers for its biggest black eye. Being awarded the 2008 Olympics has not stopped the regime’s atrocious record of human rights abuses. A recent report by Amnesty International clearly suggests that the regime has not lived up to its promise of advancing human rights made back in 2001 to the International Olympics Committee. Dissidents and human rights activists are still being harassed, detained, and tortured. Media suppression and crackdowns are still going on, including the continued imprisonment of journalists and writers, shutting down of unsanctioned publications, and ever more pervasive Internet censorship. Faith-based groups remain a target for unrestrained repression. Case in point, members of Falun Gong have had their organs harvested while they were still alive and then killed, as revealed by David Matas and David Kilgour, noted human rights lawyer and former Canadian Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific in their investigative reports.
As the Games approach, voices of opposition are getting louder. Individuals and human rights groups in China and abroad are calling for a boycott of the Games. Reporters Without Borders put up on its website a poster using five handcuffs to replace the Olympics’ five-ring emblem. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, actress Mia Farrow popularized the term “Genocide Olympics,” referring to the Beijing regime’s financial support of Sudan in spite of the Darfur atrocities.
Even inside China, the initial rush of joy at being awarded the Games is being tempered by common citizens’ demands for rights and justice. About 3,000 Chinese farmers who lost their land due to development openly stated that they want human rights, not the Olympics, in an open letter. Separately, 40 high-profile Chinese scholars co-signed a letter calling for respect for human rights and amnesty for political prisoners.
Given the unique nature of China’s political environment, the 2008 Beijing Olympics promise to be memorable. The 1936 Berlin Olympics are remembered as a symbolic crossroads for tyranny and genocide. Conversely, the 1988 Seoul Olympics fostered the country’s liberalization from totalitarian rule. Fifty years from now, how will we remember the 2008 Beijing Olympics?