Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"One World, Different Dreams"

Six foreign activists unfurled a banner on the Great Wall of China today. Scribbled on it was the official slogan of the 2008 Beijing Olympics: “One world, one dream”. Celebrating the one year countdown to the greatest sporting event in the world perhaps? Underneath, the words “Free Tibet” on the same banner was less cause for celebration. The group of six has been detained, and their fates are unknown.

In 2001, there was much commotion when the Olympic Games were awarded to Beijing by the slimmest of votes by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This self-proclaimed “non-profit organisation” decides who gets the Olympic honour in secret ballots, and has been trying hard to salvage its tainted reputation of being a corrupt club of self-serving internationalists. The Beijing decision did not help improve its image.

Critics cried foul and disbelief, when the Chinese capital triumphed over Toronto, Paris, and even Osaka—which was deemed one of the most hospitable cities in Asia. But rest assured, the IOC said. It will be a clean game, and it will bring great changes to China. To placate those critics who point to China’s poor human rights record, the IOC was adamant that the Games would bring the world to China, and China to the world, and in doing so put pressure on the regime to liberalise. Deals were struck with the regime to allow unprecedented press freedom to foreign journalists in this infamously repressive state, where news is known to be government propaganda and strictly censored.

Thus the Olympic dream began. In the past few years magnificent architecture and landscapes have been erected from the ground up. There is no doubt preparations is right on target to deliver what has been promised the most spectacular Games in history. To borrow those wise words of Chairman Mao, the opportunity to host the Olympics is perhaps the ultimate symbolism showing the rest of the world that China has finally “stood up”. The slogan “One world, one dream” is supposed to capture the spirit of “a great nation, with a long history of 5,000 years and on its way towards modernization, that is committed to peaceful development, harmonious society and people's happiness”. Applaud here.

But the nightmares of human rights and other abuses are far from having ended. A former UNICEF spokesperson and Hollywood began a campaign to dub the 2008 Games “Genocide Olympics”, in the face of China’s continuing financial and armaments support of Sudanese government:

That nightmare is Darfur, where more than 400,000 people have been killed and more than two-and-a-half million driven from flaming villages by the Chinese-backed government of Sudan.

That so many corporate sponsors want the world to look away from that atrocity during the games is bad enough. But equally disappointing is the decision of artists like director Steven Spielberg — who quietly visited China this month as he prepares to help stage the Olympic ceremonies — to sanitize Beijing's image. Is Mr. Spielberg, who in 1994 founded the Shoah Foundation to record the testimony of survivors of the holocaust, aware that China is bankrolling Darfur's genocide?

[…] Whether that opportunity goes unexploited lies in the hands of the high-profile supporters of these Olympic Games. Corporate sponsors like Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, General Electric and McDonalds, and key collaborators like Mr. Spielberg, should be put on notice. For there is another slogan afoot, one that is fast becoming viral amongst advocacy groups; rather than "One World, One Dream," people are beginning to speak of the coming "Genocide Olympics."

Does Mr. Spielberg really want to go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games? Do the various television sponsors around the world want to share in that shame? Because they will. Unless, of course, all of them add their singularly well-positioned voices to the growing calls for Chinese action to end the slaughter in Darfur.

Despite assertions by the Beijing Organizing Committee that the foreign press is being
“treated kindly”, Reporters without Borders begs to differ:

The Chinese authorities promised the IOC and international community concrete improvements in human rights in order to win the 2008 Olympics for Beijing. But they changed their tone after getting what they wanted. For example, then deputy Prime Minister Li Lanqing said, four days after the IOC vote in 2001, that “China’s Olympic victory” should encourage the country to maintain its “healthy life” by combatting such problems as the Falungong spiritual movement, which had “stirred up violent crime.” Several thousands of Falungong followers have been jailed since the movement was banned and at least 100 have died in detention.

A short while later, it was the turn of then Vice-President Hu Jintao (now president) to argue that after the Beijing “triumph,” it was “crucial to fight without equivocation against the separatist forces orchestrated by the Dalai Lama and the world’s anti-China forces.” In the west of the country, where there is a sizeable Muslim minority, the authorities in Xinjiang province executed Uyghurs for “separatism.” Finally, the police and judicial authorities were given orders to pursue the “Hit Hard” campaign against crime. Every year, several thousand Chinese are executed in public, often in stadiums, by means of a bullet in the back of the neck or lethal injection.

And so does the Committee to Protect Journalists, which warned of a

[…] yawning gap between China’s poor press freedom record and the promises made in 2001 when Beijing was awarded the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee awarded the 2008 Games to the Chinese capital based on assurances that authorities would allow the media “complete freedom,” and that they would apply “no restrictions” to coverage. While the government has eased some travel and interview rules that apply to foreign journalists, it continues to impose severe constraints on the domestic press. Chinese journalists are in jail. Vast censorship rules are in place. Harassment, attacks, and threats occur with impunity. China has fallen short thus far in its pledge to the international community.

To echo this, Amnesty International reports:

growing crackdown on Chinese human rights activists and journalists as well as the continued use of ‘Re-education through Labour’ (RTL) and other forms of detention without trial. Official statements suggest that the Olympics are being used to justify such repression in the name of ‘harmony’ or ‘social stability’ rather than acting as a catalyst for reform. […] the image of the Olympics continues to be being tarnished by ongoing reports of the ‘house arrest’, torture or unfair trial of Chinese activists and the extension of systems for detention without trial in Beijing as part of the city’s ‘clean-up’ ahead of August 2008. If the authorities fail to take significant action to reform such practices, reports of abuses are likely to increase as the Olympics approach with adverse publicity potentially affecting not only China, but other stakeholders in the Olympic movement, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the corporate sponsors of the Games.

And so does Human Rights Watch, which wrote:

On paper, the temporary regulations appear to free foreign correspondents from a decades-old regulatory handcuff of time-consuming and rarely granted foreign ministry approval for interviews and reporting trips o[…]. However, the new latitude granted by the temporary regulations is conditioned on being “in conformity with Chinese laws and regulations.” This is problematic, as many Chinese laws and regulations limit free expression. The continuing applicability of these other laws and regulations and the lack of independence of the judiciary limit the chances that the temporary regulations will be enforced, or enforceable.

In addition, foreign journalists must still apply for rarely-granted official permits for reporting visits to Tibet. Worse, many say that they are often harassed, detained, and intimidated by government and state security officials in the course of their reporting activities. More disturbingly, such treatment is increasingly being meted out by threatening and occasionally violent groups whom journalists often suspect to be plainclothes police personnel […]

Human Rights in China wrote that the Chinese regime is (ab)using the Olympics to package and advertise its strengths and overshadow its failings. Stories are being revealed of small children driven to the brink all in the name of “Honour for the Nation”. Further, news reports that have leaked out of the country report that Olympic merchandise are being produced by child labour. Whereas big multinationals stand to reap billions in profits from selling their shoes, clothes, puppets and pens at exuberant prices, workers are being forced to work long hours in poor conditions:

Yet the Olympics movement, particularly the International Olympics Committee, has refused to acknowledge that labour violations in their supply chain exist, and that they need to take responsibility to create an ethical marketing and licensing program in the face of these contraventions. […] Even though the IOC Code of Ethics stating clearly that “The Olympic parties must not be involved with firms or persons whose activity is inconsistent with the principles set out in the Olympic Charter”, the IOC refuses to accept responsibility for even the most minimum adherence to basic labour standards in the production and sportswear bearing the Olympic Games logo. […] The IOC has consistently favoured an approach of denial and rebuttal of claims that it address the need for oversight and responsibility in the production of Olympic logo goods.

And yet, despite all these well-founded criticisms and misgivings, the IOC President just yesterday praised Beijing for its “excellent work”. “One world, one dream”, indeed.

Ironic. The UK (and others) can proudly announce their intention to boycott sports competitions in Zimbabwe, yet when it comes to China, a regime perhaps just as, if not more, oppressive and obnoxious, they welcome it with open arms. What kind of signal did the IOC want to send to similarly brutal governments out there when it gave China the gift of the Olympics? That it’s alright to torture your own people, and send them into gulags where they slave away manufacturing cheap goods? That it’s alright to stifle dissent and arbitrarily detain opposition, and to censor the internet and all negative news about the country? And that’s it’s perfectly alright to invade Tibet and destroy the last vestiges of that country’s cultural and religious heritage? Or perhaps the IOC wanted to condone China with its continuous war-mongering and warnings of invading Taiwan?

Whatever the message, whatever the motivation or incentive, in a year’s time fanfare and fireworks will fly over Beijing, as the city, and the country, proudly invites the world to see. See the proud achievements and progress it has made in recent years, see the beauty and magnificence of this up-and-coming economic and political dragon that has now reawakened, and see how civilised people have become through the ‘no spitting’ campaigns.

But there are things that the regime does not want you to see… people who have been forcibly rounded up and sent away to make room for the Olympic dream, the people who spoke out too loudly and are now being persecuted in prison… and those resisting in silence of one day seeing their own country freed from occupation and intimidation.


And you will see.

More cartoons here.

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