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Political or Apolitical: The 2008 Beijing Olympics

China has alleged that international human rights groups are politicizing the Olympics by pressing China to cease human rights abuses. The International Olympics Committee reiterates the Games is all about sports, not politics. A review of the regulations and practices that China has adopted in preparation for the Olympics, however, shows that China is treating the event as the most important political milestone since it came to power in 1949.

This February, Hollywood director Steven Spielberg withdrew as an artistic advisor to the Beijing Olympics due to China’s position on Darfur. China’s official Olympics organization has denounced the move as politically motivated.

The Dalai Lama issued a statement on March 10, 2008, criticizing China for the arrests of Tibetan monks in violation of human rights along with the lack of freedom of speech and religion in Tibet. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs is claiming that the Dalai Lama is attempting to politicize the Beijing Olympic Games.

Beijing’s Olympic organizing committee has repeatedly stated that any behavior that politicizes the Olympics violates the tenets of the Olympics.

Observing the regulations and practices that China has adopted in preparation for the Olympics, however, it is apparent that China is treating the event as the most important political milestone since 1949, the year the Chinese Communist Party came into power.

China views the Beijing Olympics as a major vehicle to showcase and affirm its legitimacy and progress. In light of increasing social unrest and human rights movements, policies and regulations have been issued and implemented to stifle any public expressions of dissent.

The Olympic Blacklist

China has drawn a line based on political opinion and religious affiliation to exclude anyone that China regards as “hostile,” formerly termed “class enemies.”

In April 2007 the Ministry of Public Security issued a general, nationwide order, requiring tight screening of all persons both in China and overseas that intend to participate in the Olympic Games. These include members of the Olympic Committee, athletes, media personnel, and sponsors. With this, they also provide a list of 43 types of people in 11 categories to be barred from attending the Olympic Games, such as “hostile” elements, Falun Gong, religious groups, activists for ethnic independence, media, and non-governmental organizations that are deemed harmful to the Beijing Olympics.  Specifically included in the blacklist are “dangerous elements, key petitioners and other people who have serious grievances against the Party.” [1] {mospagebreak}
Chinese police authorities have been conducting background checks on those who have applied to purchase tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies. Beijing is worried that pro-Tibetan independence activists, activists for Xinjiang independence, and Falun Gong might mingle with the audience. Local neighborhood committees must verify IDs and personal information submitted by the applicants. Once purchased, the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG) must approve in writing the transfer of tickets for the opening or closing ceremony. [2]
Olympics Used as Means to Reward and Discriminate

During the recruitment of bus drivers to serve the dignitaries of the Olympics in Beijing, applicants that are Communist Party members and Communist Youth League members are preferred, while those who have been involved with Falun Gong and other banned religious groups will be excluded. The “610 Office” of the company “will conduct background investigations to determine if the volunteering driver applicants have been involved with Falun Gong and other ‘cult’ organizations, and make written recommendations.” [3]

The Public Security Bureau of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) issued an official notice on personnel security clearances and passes for restricted areas.  The notice mandates the background investigation of all personnel that hold special passes or passes for restricted areas. The investigation covers CAAC personnel, spouses, parents, in-laws, and children 18 years of age or older. The scope of the questions includes criminal records, behaviors during the “Great Cultural Revolution,” behaviors during the June 4th Tiananman student movement, if the person practices Falun Gong or not, and whether the person has relatives overseas. The forms filled in by spouses and other relatives must be reviewed and certified by local police stations. [4]

Political Apparatus at Full Steam

Control of Beijing Migrant Population

The resident population of Beijing is up to 16.33 million, with another 5.4 million migrants. In addition to migrant workers, another, more visible group of migrants are those who come to petition the government for redress of grievances suffered as a result of government abuses—“petitioners.” Tens of thousands show up at major public activities where they can attract media attention to their plight.

Last December, the City of Beijing decided to conduct house-to-house surveys and registrations from January through May 2008 to identify migrants and the house rental market. It was meant to build a foundation for security control during the Olympics, stated Xinhua. The BBC previously reported that the migrant workers in Beijing would be required to identify their political affiliations when applying for temporary residency permits. Xinhua refuted that claim in an article entitled “Management of Migrant Workers Is Not Political.” [5] {mospagebreak}
Information from current petitioners indicates that the authorities have set up a transition facility in Tongzhou in Beijing to hold petitioners, who will be detained during the Olympics. To prevent foreign media from accessing petitioners, no visits will be allowed at the facility. The facility can hold more than 20,000 people. [6]

As part of the Beijing police reform for the Olympics, Beijing police will implement a tight security strategy with neighborhood patrols and company security guards as well as over 40,000 policemen. Neighborhood patrols and company and business security guards will play a significant role to ensure that “people are watched and followed in every corner.” [7]

The Court and Procuratorate Office Are Ready

To quickly resolve and close any incidents that may potentially damage China’s image, an Olympics People’s Court was created in Beijing’s Olympic Village. It is part of the People’s Court of Beijing Chaoyang District People’s Court and will hear Olympics related cases such as disputes over demolition of houses and relocations, landscape, road construction, and disputes over Olympic Games tickets. [8]

Procurator-General of the Beijing Procuratorate Office Mu Ping stated last week that the Procuratorate Office has issued a new regulation for the Beijing Olympics, “No matter at which level of the Procuratorate system, once leads are identified, they must be reported to the higher level to ensure the same standard is applied when filing the charges.” [9]

The Military Plays a Critical Role

In June 2007, China announced that its army, navy, and air force “will fully participate in security protection for the Olympic Games.” Not surprising, since the People’s Liberation Army serves the agenda of the Party.

According to Beijing Communist Party Secretary Liu Qi in January 2008, the Chinese military will play a crucial role in the Beijing Olympics in construction, security, anti-terrorist, performance, and translation services. [10]

Earlier, the Communist Party committee in the Hebei military district listed “providing security to the Olympics” as one of its five priorities in the year 2008. [11]

Beijing Olympic Security Command Chief Tian Yixiang stated in June 2007 that the primary threats include East Turkistan terrorist groups, pro-Tibet independence groups, and Falun Gong. [12] {mospagebreak}
More Worries – New Emerging Challenges

The Appeasement of Tibetans

Tibet is a hot potato for China. Western human rights organizations have started an international campaign to boycott the Olympics in support of a free Tibet. Beijing would not want to see anything go wrong in Tibet in the run up to the Olympics, so Communist Party Secretary Hu Jintao ordered the deployment of “10,000 cadres to the grassroots,” an appeasement policy to respond to the pressure from Western countries. Further, the central government implemented a mild price increase for heating oil in Tibet in contrast to a steep hike elsewhere in the country. The Tibetan autonomous regional government provided more than 4.5 million yuan in subsidies as emergency funds to local Tibetans.   Observers consider these moves as efforts to buy peace. [13]

The Unpredictable Foreigners

The biggest headache appears to be the half a million foreigners planning to attend the Olympics. The police can hardly anticipate what their plans might be.

On November 1, 2007, in anticipation of protests by foreign human rights groups during the Olympics, Chinese Public Security Ministry spokesman Wu Heping reiterated, “Any organizations or individuals who will hold assembly, parades or demonstrations must comply with Chinese law.  Police will protect lawful activities and will handle the violations according to the law.” [14]

Regardless of what Western countries say about the Beijing Olympics, China has the jitters about any and all sources of dissent. With the State apparatus at its disposal, the Communist Party is determined to ensure that the Beijing Olympics is a political success.  Their preparations in the run up to the Olympics are, in fact, no different from their political campaigns in the past.

[1] China Aid.
[2] Xinhua, February 20, 2008
Secret China, February 29, 3008
[3] Shou Gang Youth (Capital Steel) July 12, 2007
[4] Epoch Times, March 4, 2008
[5] Xinhua, February 28, 2008
Xinhua, February 27, 2008
[6] Secret China, January 15, 2008
[7] China Central Television, October 22, 2007
[8] Xinhua, June 22, 2007
[9] Xinhua, March 11, 2008
[10] Xinhua, January 21, 2008
[11] Hebei Daily reprinted by China News, January 14, 2008
[12] Voice of America (Chinese) July 29, 2007
[13] Asia Times, November 8, 2007
[14] China Ministry of Public Security, November 1, 2007