Beijing Boycott Campaign Fizzles
July 9, 2008 - 5:26 AMIn another setback for those campaigning for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Wednesday that he would attend the Aug. 8 event.
Following the recent confirmation that President Bush will go to Beijing, critics of Chinese government policies were holding out hope that Sarkozy would become the most high-profile world leader to stay away. They were buoyed by his earlier hints that he might do so to protest Chinese actions in Tibet.
But a statement released by Sarkozy’s office after he met with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Japan confirmed that he would attend.
As France holds the rotating presidency of the 27-nation European Union, a stayaway by its Sarkozy would have sent an especially powerful signal on behalf of China’s top trading partner.
The statement said Sarkozy would attend in the dual capacity of president of France and president of the E.U.
Earlier, Sarkozy said his decision on whether or not to attend would depend on progress in talks between the communist government and representatives of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The two sides, which held six rounds of inconclusive negotiations between 2002 and mid-2007, have met again twice – most recently this week – since China clamped down on riots in Tibet last March, with little sign of headway in bridging the differences between them.
Beijing blames the Dalai Lama for the violence and accuses him of wanting to split Tibet from China. The Buddhist leader, who spoke out against the rioting, says he favors autonomy, not independence, for the territory controlled by China since 1951.
Tibet’s government-in-exile says the crackdown in March left more than 140 people although the Chinese government put the figure at 22.
The violence sparked widespread outrage, and the 2008 Olympic torch relay was marred by protests as it made its way around the world the following month.
The most chaotic disruption of the torch relay occurred in Paris, triggering an anti-France backlash by angry Chinese. Protests targeted the French retail giant, Carrefour, which has 100 hypermarkets in China and serves 300 million customers there each year.
What kind of reception Sarkozy can expect in Beijing remains to be seen, but China’s foreign ministry and official media have slammed his attempts to link Tibet and the Olympic Games.
“Sarkozy’s wavering attitude on whether he will attend the Olympics opening ceremony has already hurt the feelings of the Chinese people,” the communist party’s People’s Daily said.
The state-run China Daily reported last week that in an online poll by the Chinese Internet portal sina.com, almost 90 percent of the more than 100,000 respondents said they would not welcome Sarkozy’s attendance at the Olympics.
The Dalai Lama will visit France next month for a Buddhist conference. The Chinese ambassador in Paris said Tuesday that any meeting between the French president and the Tibetan leader would have “serious consequences” for bilateral relations.
Apart from concerns over Tibet, boycott supporters say China has not done nearly enough to improve its human rights record in areas ranging from handling of dissent to religious and press freedom. Some also cite Beijing’s support for such repressive regimes as those ruling Sudan and Burma.
One of the groups promoting a boycott, the Paris-based press watchdog Reporters Without Borders, said the French and U.S. presidents were “depriving themselves of a means of leverage that might have led to the release of imprisoned journalists and human rights activists.”
The group estimates that around 100 journalists, cyber-dissidents and bloggers are imprisoned in China, despite the government’s pledges – when bidding for the hosting rights in 2001 – to improve its human rights record.
World leaders who plan to skip the Olympics opening ceremony include the prime ministers of Canada, Poland, New Zealand and Britain (Gordon Brown says he will be at the closing ceremony); the German and Austrian chancellors; and the presidents of the Czech Republic and Taiwan.