The highest aim of the Olympic Games is set out in the Olympic Charter: “encouraging the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Yet of all the nations in the world which could have hosted the next Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has picked China the country generally viewed as the biggest violator of human dignity.
From the issue of Tibet, to the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, Christians, Catholics, democracy activists and human rights advocates, China’s human rights record is appalling. Visitors to the 2008 Olympics will not need to go far to view this modern history of China. Attendees of the cycling, marathon and triathlon events will only need to look around their venue—Tiananmen Square.
Can the world forgive and forget?
Tiananmen Square, or the Gate of Heavenly Peace, was originally constructed for citizens to air their case before the Emperor without fear of reprisal. In more recent times, however, it has been the site of the worst bloodshed and repression that modern China has known. In the past 15 years many have seen the 1989 massacre of student democracy activists, and the arrest of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners.
While these simple paradoxes are enough to cause some people to reconsider their attendance at the 2008 Olympics, it appears a far more pressing issue is coming to the surface. Corruption has dogged the IOC and the host nations for the past few years. While corruption scandals in the past have generally focused on the IOC and its officials, many Chinese nationals are concerned that China’s centuries-old custom of corruption will affect the Beijing games. As 22-year-old student, Sun Rongrong, expressed to the BBC World News Service in 2001, “There is a widespread fear that billions of dollars in Olympic-related construction projects will end up filling the pockets of corrupt officials.” (The BBC World News Service, Saturday, 14 July, 2001, ‘Beijing Revels in Olympics Victory’.)
It certainly appears that this fear was well founded, as the Auditor General of China’s National Audit Office (CNAO), Li Jinhua, reported on January 31 that there were cases of embezzlement amounting to 16.5 billion yuan (~$2 billion) uncovered by government audits in 2003. Local CNAO offices conducted the audits, which were focused on revenue and expenditure statements of public organizations in 26 provinces, regions and cities.
The audits revealed a full spectrum of accounting misconduct. Minor infractions took many forms, such as not reporting income and expenses according to regulations. More serious infractions were also common, such as many departments giving out fines without justification, abusing expense accounts, and not banking department funds into correct treasury accounts. Investigators also revealed that more than 290 grassroots public organizations had secretly set up 1325 state treasuries, to which they which directed over $700 million yuan (~$90 million).
The CNAO report also disclosed that government officials at various levels of the government had misused more than $2 billion in 2003, with the 2008 Olympic committee also fingered for embezzlement. CNAO found that the sporting body had used more than $15 million inappropriately by spending on private housing for staff, and by diverting funds into other investments. One can only imagine the amount of corruption surrounding the pool of $33 billion used to build the Olympic infrastructure in Beijing. However, this widespread fraud will mean that all sorts of bribes and crooked deals may have taken place, which brings up the issue of the safety of the construction projects. In the past, newly built infrastructure like highways, high rise buildings and public housing were found to be unsafe due to corrupt officials cutting costs on these projects. An example of this is seen in the above mentioned CNAO report which also revealed that during last year’s investigations on the use of funds for treating and preventing water pollution in the Three Gorges Dam, from the area around the city of Chongqing and the Hubei Province, it was discovered that the amount of contaminants entering the dam area was unclear, as part of the special teams established to prevent and treat water pollution were unable to reach the discharge standards. China seems to be sweeping all this under the rug, a nasty habit it has developed when dealing with people’s live. It begs the question of how large is the façade and is the West going to implement any real checks and balances on China’s Olympic preparations.
Bad taste in the mouth
So far, the picture being painted is that the world is haunted by a shadow of doubt about China’s human rights record, its endemic corruption and its ability to fulfill the role of Olympic host. Altogether, this creates a bad taste in the mouth, like the aftermath of accidentally drinking sour milk. If it looks bad, and smells bad, it probably is bad, so do you really have to taste it, in spite of everything?
Did you know these facts about China?
• Electricity is scarce in Beijing especially during summer, resulting in frequent “brownouts” (planned blackouts) and blackouts.
• Construction companies and government officials related to the Olympics are being investigated on corruption charges.
• Traffic congestion is a major problem in Beijing, as motor vehicles become more affordable for the Chinese. This has resulted in high levels of pollution, infrastructural problems and traveling difficulties.
• Government newspaper says for every120 men there are 100 women.
• Xinhuanet reports about a plastic surgery epidemic in China, with children as young as 3 years old being given dimples by their parents.
• Energy Bureau of the State Development and Reform Comission reports China’s output of primary energy was equal to 1.603 billion tons of standard coal last year, up 11% over the previous year.
• According to the China Daily, China discharged 19.27 million tons of sulfur dioxide in 2002, 90% of which came from burning coal, and 200 million tons of ash and solid waste.
• The average wage for worker in Guangzhou this year is 22, 446 yuan (~$2750) , 9.2% higher than 2003 according to Asian Labor News.
• Priceless ancient artifacts and historical residential sites are being demolished to make ways for new residential and office buildings for the 2008 Olympics.
Victoria Kelly-Clarke is a correspondent for Chinascope.