As the People’s Republic of China was characteristically murdering the people of occupied Tibet, Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, protested by suspending high-level talks in Beijing planned for May. Said Heidermaie Wieczorek, Germany’s development minister, to The Financial Times: [Government] talks “were hardly imaginable while the violence in Tibet continues.” And Merkel will not attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.
Our own sports-loving president is looking forward to being spotlighted at the Olympic ceremonies in China this August.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—the first major foreign official to seek out and support Tibet’s exiled Dalai Lama at his headquarters in Dharamsala, India—denounced the Chinese crackdown in no uncertain terms: “If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China’s oppression in China and Tibet,” she said, “we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world.”
This is very much what Nancy Pelosi said to me in 1989, not long after China’s Politburo ordered the massacre of hundreds of nonviolent pro-democracy Chinese students in Tiananmen Square in Beijing and then, still not sated, ordered the main campus of Peking University to be raided in search of the ringleaders, unleashing the security forces to beat and kill those they suspected of orchestrating the protests.
Not surprisingly, the present leaders of China have told all telecommunications companies covering the 2008 Olympics that they will be forbidden to show live shots of Tiananmen Square during the country’s coming-out party at the games. It’s a ban, MarketWatch pointed out, that should dampen the high expectations of “General Electric Co.’s NBC network and others that have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to air live coverage of the games.”
When I interviewed Nancy Pelosi 19 years ago, what added to her fury about Tiananmen Square was the arrival in Washington of the high-level Chinese military official who had commanded the massacre, already know as the “butcher of Beijing.” He had come on a diplomatic mission to discuss issues of trade and other mutual concerns. Pelosi was fiercely critical of George H.W. Bush’s administration, as she told me, for inviting the mass murderer. Since then, Pelosi has been a ceaseless critic of China’s abuse of the human rights of its own citizens and those of others under its control.
Pelosi has since become Speaker of the House, and has now taken on George H.W. Bush’s son for his stubborn intention to attend the Genocide Olympics, saying that he should refuse to attend the opening ceremonies. But George W. Bush says he’ll speak privately with China’s leaders about certain controversial matters once he gets there, noting that he has an “extraordinary relationship” with President Hu Jintao—they talk on the phone every six weeks or so. (Presumably, he even may have looked into that ruler’s eyes, as he once did into the arctic eyes of Vladimir Putin, although he failed to see the letters “KGB” stenciled there.)
Another possible explanation for the president’s presence at the games is offered in a March 21 Washington Post report: that his administration is counting on Chinese help in curbing the nuclear adventures of North Korea and Iran, and that “the economic interests of the two countries are also increasingly linked, with China a huge investor in U.S. Treasury securities.”
The State Department certainly seems determined to treat the Genocide Olympics as nothing out of the ordinary. A spokesman for the State Department flatly declared on March 24: “We view this as a significant international sporting event. We’re going to treat it as such.” But Michele Bernier-Toth, an official with the Bureau of Consular Affairs, warned that Americans attending the Olympics in China can expect their conversations and telephones to be monitored, and their rooms searched without their knowledge.
I am confident that the Secret Service agents accompanying Mr. Bush will do everything they can to ensure that his privacy—unlike that of ordinary American visitors—will be protected. But I doubt they’ll succeed.
Moreover, I find myself agreeing with those who speculate that the State Department’s startling removal of China from its annual list of the world’s worst human-rights violators is an attempt to remove the onus from Bush’s decision to grace the August Olympics. With appropriate disrespect, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said on March 11: “This decision [by Bush] was announced even as it was learned that some one hundred Tibetan monks have been arrested and Chinese authorities are refusing to release [human-rights] activist Hu Jia and dozens of other freedom-of-expression advocates.”
Throughout the mounting international wave of revulsion at China’s savagery in crushing the pro-democracy Tibetans—as well as its complicity in the genocide in Darfur being committed by Sudan, China’s major oil supplier—there has been a craven silence from the International Olympic Committee and its president, Jacques Rogge, despite the many broken promises that China made to the IOC to secure the August games in the first place.
China had pledged an increased attention to human rights and a guarantee of free access and uncensored reporting by international media before and during the Olympics. Already, reports the March 25 New York Times, the Chinese government “appears to be . . . censoring foreign television broadcasts about Tibet. YouTube.com was blocked after the riots began, and CNN and NBC broadcasts regularly go black after mentions of riots in Tibet.”
If there are blackouts of demonstrations during the games, can we count on our own freedom-loving president to publicly chastise his friend, Hu Jintao? It doesn’t seem likely: The White House announced on March 26 that China’s crackdown in Tibet “was not cause for [President Bush] to cancel” his visit.
The day before, in Greece, at the start of the 85,000-mile torch-relay route to the Beijing Olympics (“Light the Passion, Share the Dream”is its slogan), three members of Reporters Without Borders broke through the massive security forces and ran onto the field carrying black flags. They were eventually “detained,” but not before they’d made their point.
Watching the spectacle was IOC chairman Jacques Rogge. He did not applaud. He already knew that Hans-Gert Pöttering, president of the European Parliament, has told the E.U.’s member nations to consider boycotting the Olympics—an idea whose time has come!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 8, 2008