Thursday, August 16, 2007

Olympic Spotlight Ignites Hope for Change in China

By Caylan Ford
Epoch Times Canada Staff
Aug 16, 2007

Dressed as a Greek Goddess, this activist joined government officials and former Olympians to begin the global Human Rights Torch Relay in Athens.(The Epoch Times)
Dressed as a Greek Goddess, this activist joined government officials and former Olympians to begin the global Human Rights Torch Relay in Athens.(The Epoch Times)

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When the IOC awarded Beijing the 2008 summer Olympics, it was said to be an act of faith that the Games would give China's leaders the impetus to become more responsible players in the international community.

What the current Chinese regime had hoped to be an Olympic coming-out party on the word stage is instead looking more like the 1936 Olympics, which were blighted by Hitler and Nazism.

A laundry list of interest groups are sounding the alarm over the 2008 Games, ranging from concerns over press freedom, the persecution of Falun Gong, Tibetans, and political dissidents to China's arms proliferation, its role in Darfur, tainted products, and pollution problems.

The organizers of the Beijing Olympics are no strangers to controversy. The preparations for the Games have ranged from the eccentric–like spray-painting the grass green during IOC inspections and planning to artificially force rain ahead of the opening ceremony–to the appalling. Some human rights groups charge that Beijing has used the Games as a pretext to step up the suppression of dissidents and religious groups such as Falun Gong and Tibet so as to avoid any public protests during the Games.

But rather than being silenced, rights advocates are instead using the Games as a platform to flag long-standing during this time when the international community is more inclined to pay attention.

Last week, exactly a year ahead of the opening ceremonies for the Games, two former Olympians joined supporters of the Falun Gong spiritual discipline in launching a "Human Rights Torch Relay" in Athens to protest the Chinese regime's violent persecution of the meditation practice.

Among those present at the event in Athens was former Edmonton MP and Liberal cabinet minister David Kilgour, who referred to the 2008 Olympics as the "bloody harvest Olympics." The moniker was a reference to the Chinese regime's practice of forcibly removing and selling the organs of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience.

Supporters of human rights in Darfur, have also seized on the chance to condemn Chinese rulers for their policy on Sudan, which includes weapons proliferation and obstructing UN resolutions to intervene in the conflict there. Referring to the Beijing Games as the "genocide Olympics", many groups are calling for a boycott.

"We have tried to give China a chance to try to make good of what is required of a rising world power, that is, recognizing and respecting the rights of its citizens and promoting human rights outside of its own borders. So if that does not happen we will have no choice but to call for a boycott of the Beijing Olympic Games," says Clement Apaak, chair and founder of Canadian Students for Darfur.

High-profile celebrities like Mia Farrow have also called for a boycott of the Games over China's backing of the Sudanese government. Farrow,along with several prominent rights activists, also launched a symbolic torch relay in Chad this week to protest the Beijing Games.

Director Steven Spielberg, one of the artistic advisors for the Beijing Games, is reportedly considering resigning his post if China does not change its stance on Sudan.

Another artist involved in the Games came forward this week to disavow his involvement in the Games. Ai Weiwei, the man behind the design of China's National Olympic Stadium, told the Guardian with reference to the Beijing Games: "I hate the kind of feeling stirred up by promotion or propaganda . . . It's the kind of sentiment when you don't stick to the facts, but try to make up something, to mislead people away from a true discussion. It is not good for anyone."

Seeing the Games as a means for the Chinese Communist Party to bolster its legitimacy, he said he wished his involvement be "forgotten." "If you read newspapers today you see the problems created by [the state] and by the effort to maintain power. It is against everything that human society should be fighting for," he told the newspaper.

On Aug. 7, Tibetan rights activists–including three Canadians–made international headlines when they unfurled a banner on the Great Wall of China. The banner, which stayed on the wall for two hours, read: "One World, One Dream, Free Tibet"–a play on the Beijing Olympic's slogan "One World, One Dream." The protesters were detained for 36 hours and interrogated before being deported.

In an effort to prevent similar occurrences during the Games themselves, the Chinese regime is reportedly compiling intelligence information on foreigners who might have reason to protest during the Games, including activist groups, non-government organizations, and even some Christian organizations, according to the Associate Press.

Yet it's not only foreigners who have reason to protest the Games. Where support for the Olympics among Beijing residents was ripe back in 2001, thousands of forced evictions to make room for Olympics projects in the city have since left many disillusioned.

Last month in one Beijing neighborhood where some 1000 families were forcibly evicted from their homes without compensation, hundreds of locals staged a round-the-clock protests for over two weeks to demand redress. Their homes were torn down to make way for an Olympic park. Instead of compensating the families, police arrested and monitored some of the protesters and ordered them disbanded.

"Holding the Olympics in Beijing is wasting manpower and money, the country is still poor," said one protester, surnamed Li. "The Olympics could only put powder on the false face of the regime. The communist regime stole the land from the villagers by cheating; now it will cheat the foreigners too."

A slew of other revelations have cast a shadow on the Beijing Games recently.

A spate of health scares and recalls of Chinese-made products began in March with revelations that a Chinese ingredient in pet foods sold in North America contained rat poison. It was blamed for killing over a dozen pets.

That incident was followed by scandals involving other "made in China" products, including toothpaste that contained an ingredient of antifreeze, toxic cough syrup, children's toys covered in lead-base paint, and car tires that lacked a safety strip. Most recently, toy giant Mattell has been forced to recall millions of toys that either had lead paint or small magnets that it said could cause injury or death if swallowed.

In June, it was revealed that several brick factories China were using child slave labour. The children were abducted, abused, and forced to work in egregious conditions, while local authorities turned a blind eye.

That news was followed by allegations that a manufacturer of Beijing Olympic merchandise was using child labor. An anxious Chinese regime later stripped that company's right to produce the products.

Last week, the issue of Beijing's heavily polluted air cast a fog over ceremonies intended to celebrate the one-year countdown to the Games. Some countries warned that their athletes would not train there and IOC president Jacques Rogge even suggested that some outdoor events may need to be postponed due to pollution.

Some members of Canada's women's soccer team reported using puffers they hadn't used in years after training in Beijing this spring.

Last week Reporters Without Borders expressed concerns that Beijing was reneging on promises to allow press freedom during the Olympic Games, citing the fact that the regime continues to imprison more journalists than any other nation on earth.

Members of the organization held a small protest in Beijing to demand greater press freedom. Shortly after their demonstration, police detained foreign journalists who covered the event.

The regime in Beijing is understandably concerned about media coverage during the Games, and even more so about the potential for demonstrations. Should protests occur in the nation's capital while the whole world watches, after all, it could be the death knell for the party whose power seems to rest on secrecy.

But if recent events are any indication, more people the world over do seem to share one dream: a free China. And who knows–the Beijing Games could just be the place to make it happen.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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