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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Olympics Bound

September 15, 2007

China sees the 2008 Olympics, to which it is playing host, as an international coming-out party for its rising global economic, political and military power. Which is why China’s president, Hu Jintao, lobbied so hard to persuade President Bush to accept his invitation to the opening ceremonies. Mr. Bush was right to agree, although we wish he had played a lot harder to get.

China’s Olympic bid was controversial from the start. Human Rights Watch notes that the 2008 Games will be the first since the 1984 Games in Sarajevo to be held in an undemocratic country. Some critics continue to call for protests or a boycott because of China’s abysmal human rights record and its inaction on Darfur.

Beijing promised the International Olympic Committee it would allow accredited foreign journalists “complete freedom to report” in China before and during the games — and in 2006 it unveiled new, temporary regulations to that effect. But Human Rights Watch says these regulations have been ignored or denied and there has been scant letup in the detention, harassment and intimidation of foreign reporters. The government also maintains a “stranglehold” on the activities of domestic journalists, the rights group says.

Meanwhile, dissidents have been put under house arrest, the homeless swept off the streets. Under pressure from the United States and threats from Hollywood celebrities, China has been taking steps to help end the four-year conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million made homeless. However, as a leading consumer of Sudanese oil, it has not wielded its obvious economic leverage with the Khartoum government to greatest effect.

The United States-China relationship is complicated and Beijing’s cooperation is needed to resolve some of the most challenging problems on Mr. Bush’s agenda, including North Korea, Iran and the trade deficit. Mr. Bush very likely earned some good will by accepting Mr. Hu’s Olympic invitation when the two met earlier this month at a regional meeting in Sydney. Officials say the White House decided to accept now to soften the blow of Mr. Bush’s decision to attend next month’s ceremony in Washington where the Dalai Lama — the exiled spiritual leader who is seeking autonomy for Tibet from Beijing — is to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. And they say Mr. Bush privately urged Mr. Hu to allow the Dalai Lama to visit China before the Olympics next August. There has been no commitment by Beijing, but White House aides remain hopeful.

We suspect that Mr. Bush might have gotten even more leverage if he had put off his acceptance until closer to the games. Since he did not, however, American officials must be even more vigilant in the coming months in pressing China to relax restrictions on foreign and domestic reporters, and to give space to political dissidents and religious worshipers. The international media ought to use any access it gets to report on human rights developments in China, not just the buildup to the Olympics.

More than anything, administration officials need to remind the Chinese that the whole world will be watching, and that the Olympics, which extol human dignity in sports competition, give China an opportunity to prove that it truly has advanced as far as it claims.

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