China's Games

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

SUPPOSE YOU have a country that's quickly growing into a superpower but has a terrible human rights record. Granting it the Olympics should force it to shape up, right? With all eyes on this country, it can't possibly continue to get away with rampant executions, political oppression, forced abortions and organ harvesting. Right?

That was the gist of what China argued in 2001, anyway. "By allowing Beijing to host the Games," the vice president of Beijing's Olympic bid committee said in April 2001, "you will help the development of human rights."

Instead, getting the 2008 Games seems to have emboldened China's communist rulers. Amnesty International recently released a report indicating that despite a few minor reforms such as the temporary loosening of control over foreign media, human rights violations in China persist and in some areas have worsened.

Protests in Guangxi region last week revealed what appears to be a resurgence of the state's harsh family planning policies, which place quotas on the number of children allowed. Enforcement of the policies, begun in 1980, had seemed to wane in recent years, but now reports of forced abortions and sterilizations are reappearing. Extensive use of detention without trial, censorship of domestic media and the Internet, and intimidation of political activists (including two AIDS activists put under house arrest last week) also appear to have increased. The government has been shutting down Web sites.

China is cracking down on dissidents because of, not in spite of, the Olympics. "[S]trik[ing] hard at hostile forces," as China's minister of public security told a state-run publication in March, is meant to "create a harmonious society and a good social environment for successfully holding . . . the Beijing Olympic Games."

China is not just abusing human rights at home; it's countenancing genocide abroad. Despite increasing evidence that the Sudanese government is contributing to mass killings in Darfur, China remains Khartoum's main commercial partner, buying two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports. Amnesty International has alleged that China is supplying the arms used in the Darfur conflict, which China denies. China has generally refused to take a stance on the internal politics of Sudan, just as it wishes the world would stay out of its own internal politics, and it has blocked U.N. sanctions against Khartoum. In recent months, however, China has taken credit for persuading Sudan to accept U.N. and African Union peacekeeping forces. Beijing also recently sent a "special envoy" to Darfur. These gestures are not enough.

China has criticized human rights activists who call the 2008 Olympics the "Genocide Olympics," saying it is improper to "politicize the Olympic Games." But the Chinese government has been politicizing this event all along.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company