Far Eastern Economic Review
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Should Beijing Host 2008 Olympics?

May 23, 2001

Sports should be above politics, right? In an ideal world, yes. And even in our less-than-perfect version, the men and women who compete certainly don't harbour thoughts of anything except winning and beating the clock when on the track, field or court. But it would be naive to believe that no taint of politics has ever touched the staging of major sporting events. The 1936 Berlin Olympics were unabashed Nazi propaganda; Jimmy Carter pulled the United States from the 1980 Moscow Games to protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan -- 60 countries joined that boycott. Now, even as its supporters say Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games should be above politics, their argument is being undercut by China itself.

Last week, the official China Daily quoted a top Chinese sports official, Yuan Weimin, saying that if Beijing were to host the games, China could allow Taiwan to hold some events under the principle of One China. In other words, Taiwan can have some of the glory if it agreed that holding events in Taiwan meant they took place in a part of China ruled by Beijing. Taiwan Vice-President Annette Lu colourfully, but correctly, characterized the offer as "like a lion's cage set up for a kitty to enter."

And now that Beijing has muddied its own bid with politics, it's not unfair to ask if it deserves the games on similar grounds. China's aims for the games are to showcase its "achievements" -- that its particular form of communism has worked to raise general prosperity. Holding the games in Beijing would constitute an implicit argument that in the cost-benefit calculus, communist rule firmly puts China on the plus side of the ledger.

Really? Let's see. Beijing is a regime that precipitated a diplomatic crisis after one of its own fighter jets caused a collision with an American aircraft in international airspace. It is a regime that earlier challenged the presence of an unarmed American surveillance vessel in international waters, part of plans to bolster its territorial claims beyond internationally accepted bounds. It is a regime that has detained several visiting mainland-born naturalized U.S. citizens and permanent residents. These scholars' crime apparently was to have visited Taiwan and perhaps to have written favourably about that democracy.

Beijing also is a regime whose draconian one-child policy last week saw a mother of two apparently jump to her death after she was forcibly taken to be sterilized. Then, there's the matter of its relations with supposedly autonomous Hong Kong. Uncanny, how Hong Kong immigration was able to identify about 100 possible "threats" to law and order -- all of them, surprise, Falun Gong supporters -- and stop them entering the territory during Jiang Zemin's visit. The authorities now apparently admit to keeping a blacklist.

Domestically, Beijing constitutes a fearful regime; internationally, it is a threat to regional stability. So would it be a fit thing for the International Olympic Committee at the very least to appear to sanction repression, belligerence and naked territorial ambitions? It'd be nice to say that Beijing's bid for the games deserves a sporting chance. Perhaps when China offers the same to its own people.