Campaign To Deny Beijing Olympic Host Status Continues
London (CNSNews.com) - Human rights activists spearheading a campaign to prevent Beijing from hosting the 2008 Olympic games were not concerned about reports Monday that the Bush administration has decided to remain neutral on the issue.
If anything, such a decision by Washington may allow the campaign to remain focused on human rights, ethical and "Olympic ideal" arguments, rather than risk it being seen as an overtly political stance, a spokesman said Monday.
Vincent Brossel of Reporters Without Frontiers (RSF) said from Paris it was most important to channel the opinions of non-governmental organizations, human rights groups, media and ordinary people toward applying pressure on the International Olympic Committee.
The IOC's 123 members, who hail from some 80 nations but do not represent their countries' official views, will decide on the host for the 2008 Olympics at a gathering in Moscow on July 13.
Beijing, Toronto and Paris are frontrunners, with the Chinese capital thought to enjoy an edge, partly because it narrowly lost out on the opportunity to host the 2000 Games, held in Sydney. Istanbul and Osaka, Japan are considered outsiders because of weaknesses in their bids, highlighted by an IOC evaluation report released in May.
RSF, Solidarity China and the Committee for the Support of Tibetan People have jointly sent letters to the IOC members, urging them to reject Beijing's candidacy because of China's human rights record. Brossel said they had received no replies, but knew from sources close to IOC members that a debate was underway over the issue, and many were concerned.
"There are enough democratic countries to avoid giving one of the last and most violent dictatorships in the world the privilege of organizing the most prestigious festival of sport," the groups wrote.
Brossel said the letters had been accompanied by facts and figures about violations being perpetrated by Beijing, including appeals from Chinese dissidents.
The three groups have also launched a multi-lingual billboard campaign in Europe showing handcuffs in place of the five Olympic rings, and the slogan "China: Gold Medal for Human Rights Violations."
Earlier this year some U.S. Congressmen proposed pressuring the IOC to deny Beijing's bid, following the seizure of a U.S. spy plane forced to land at a Chinese airbase following a midair collision with a Chinese fighter plane on April 1.
A bipartisan resolution opposing Beijing's candidacy subsequently passed the House International Relations Committee.
Secretary of State Colin Powell in early May told Congress that the decision was an IOC one, although he felt sure the committee would be interested in what the U.S. might say on the matter.
The Washington Post reported Monday that the administration has decided to remain neutral, in the hope this would defuse what is said to be an emotional issue for the Chinese.
Views differ as to whether giving Beijing the Olympics would be wrongly rewarding the Chinese government for its oppressive policies, or prodding it towards reform and greater openness.
Even human rights groups and dissidents don't see eye to eye on the issue, Brossel conceded Monday.
But he denied there was a "split." Leading human rights organizations were in no disagreement about what was wrong with Chinese society, he said. Some had different political priorities when it came to the Olympic bid.
The Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, Sidney Jones, wrote earlier this month to IOC head Juan Antonio Samaranch that the group was "not opposed a priori" to Beijing hosting the Games, but urging that the IOC seek specific human rights commitments from China before and during the event.
"If the IOC were to request and secure written commitments on human rights protections now, it would reassure many around the world who are disturbed by China's human rights practices," he wrote. "If the IOC failed to receive such commitments, on the other hand, the desirability of selecting Beijing might well be questioned."
Explaining why RSF and its two companion groups in the "no to Beijing" campaign - which is backed by leading exiled dissident Wei Jingsheng - were taking a different approach, Brossel said that once the city had been awarded the Games, there was no way of telling how China would behave in the seven intervening years.
He noted that Moscow had been awarded the 1980 Olympics in 1973, and then just a year before the Games, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan.
No one knew now what China would get up to, he said. Members of the IOC are known to be particularly concerned about the issues of instability and risk when it came to host cities, he added.
"I don't understand how Samaranch and the others know that Beijing will be stable [in 2008]. Even Chinese leaders are concerned about that."
Samaranch, who is standing down as president at the IOC's Moscow meeting, is widely reported to favor Beijing for 2008.
Earlier this month, a letter purportedly written by an IOC member accused him of interfering in the IOC evaluation process in order to strengthen Beijing's chances.
The IOC dismissed the letter as a "blatant forgery" and denied the allegation that Samaranch had changed some sentences in an original evaluation report to favor the Chinese contender.
In another incident, the Lausanne-based IOC alerted the Swiss police after receiving threatening letters from an Indian-based faction of the Tibetan Youth Congress, threatening "serious bodily reprisals" against IOC members who back Beijing in the July vote.
Meanwhile the two cities offering Beijing the most competition in the race, Paris and Toronto, have both had minor hiccups in recent weeks.
In France, businessman Claude Bebear, who heads the Paris bid, was placed under police investigation on suspicion of money laundering not related to the Olympic campaign. Bebear last Friday attacked the Beijing bid on human rights grounds.
And in Canada, Toronto mayor Mel Lastman was last week at the center of a row after lighthearted comments he made about fearing African snakes and cannibals were considered offensive. He later apologized.
China Wants Congress To Stop Interfering In Beijing Olympic Bid (Apr 11, 2001)