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Asia Kouchner observed that “when you’re dealing in international relations with countries as important as China, obviously when you make economic decisions it’s sometimes at the expense of human rights. That’s elementary realism.” While a stark, if not cold admission of the realities of the political situation with China, Minister Kouchner’s statement is morbidly ironic. Minister Kouchner’s suggests that France can justifiably choose to support the Beijing Olympics despite qualms about human rights, forgetting that the Olympics are an ancient tradition meant to bring countries together in support of “universal moral principles.” Even President Bush, the leader of the “free world” and head of a nation that prides itself on preserving the integrity of human rights, plans to attend the 2008 Olympics and contends that the Games are about sports and not politics. Paradoxically, however, the greatest concerns of the American President and his foreign counterparts about boycotting the Beijing Olympics appear to be political. Foreign officials presumably hope that by denouncing the idea of boycotting the Games they can appease Beijing and avoid jeopardizing their economic affairs with China. Although both European and U.S. leaders are furiously attempting to separate the Olympic Games from politics, the Games are creating a political dilemma of their own. The world’s willingness to attend the 2008 Beijing Olympics reveals China’s influence in the political and economic decisions of the international community. The United States has clearly denounced the idea of boycotting the Beijing Olympics, and although European Parliament president Hans-Gert Pöttering and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have not “ruled out” a boycott of the Beijing Games, Germany and Great Britain both oppose a boycott. The United Nations, too, has remained quiet on the issue. From environmentalists to athletes to human rights activists, it seems all interested parties except for state leaders and the United Nations are protesting the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Several environmental researchers fear that Beijing’s horrendous air quality coupled with its high humidity and heat during the summer will pose a health risk to athletes. Darfur activists equate China’s oil investments in Sudan

Greg Baker/AP

with complaisance in the Darfur genocide. Outraged by China’s mistreatment of reporters—currently 32 journalists are imprisoned in China—and tight government media censorship, Reporters Without Borders is calling upon world leaders to boycott the Beijing Games. And Human Rights Watch outlines a host of human rights abuses—labor right violations, religious persecution, thousands of forced evictions in preparation for Olympics construction, obstruction of HIV/AIDS education and advocacy, marginalization of ethnic minorities, and the “use of the house arrest system”—which it argues the

Applauding too soon? Despite capturing the Olympic spotlight in 2008, China still has far to go in respecting human rights.

China’s largest export destination, has the ability to affect China’s export revenues. In fact, Germany has already used its position as China’s largest European trading partner in an attempt to pressure Chinese officials into submission. In response to the increasingly violent reactions of the Chinese government against Tibetan demonstrators, Berlin has halted all aid talks with Beijing. German officials have suspended transfers of development aid money until China stops the violence in Tibet. And according to Germany’s green party leader Volker Beck, “China’s economy is dependent on the transfer of technology,” a transfer over which the European Union has strong control. The EU has the economic clout needed to persuade and rebuke China when it deems necessary. Provided China’s human rights record and the upcoming Beijing Olympics, the international community has a choice to make. If world leaders opt to attend the 2008 Olympic Games this summer and disregard China’s human rights offenses, they would preserve their stable relations with China. But by attending the Games global leaders also compromise international human rights standards and the integrity of the Olympics. Afp

“The international community has a choice to make.”

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Chinese government continually fails to remedy. Unlike state leaders, environmental groups and human rights advocates do not have economies to manage, but only self-assigned missions to fulfill and policies to advance. In the wake of China’s current human rights offenses, world leaders realize China’s economic power and political importance and have chosen to disregard China’s appalling human rights record rather than confront China and jeopardize important economic ties. China’s political and economic influence is powerful, but not all-powerful. Because of its increased involvement in the international economy and political system, it too remains vulnerable to other countries’ demands. The United States, as

American Foreign Policy

Tara may be reached at taral@princeton.edu

April 2008 Issue  
April 2008 Issue  

AFP's April 2008 print edition

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