Monday, 18 February 2008

Made in China

There's something immensely hypocritical about the way that world powers can separate sport and politics when it suits them.

The planned Beijing Olympics is a case in point, where some recent polemic suggests that there's no connection between the host country for a sporting event and any of its other actions on the world stage.

China has been moving to the centre of manufacturing and progressively increasing its importance as a world economic power, yet it has both internal challenges in the way that it handles its own people and additionally is supporting the Sudanese government in their continued carnage within Dafur.

Over the last five years, more than 200,000 people have been killed and a further 2.5 million forced from their homes in the conflicts.
Furthermore, within China itself, elementary rights of freedom of speech, assembly and belief are systematically violated.

Journalists, academics, people of religion and varied activists are routinely detained in a gulag-like environment. The internet is censored. Tibet has had the democracy sucked out.
Steven Spielberg has flagged the problem by withdrawing his services as artistic director to the event, but it can't have escaped many that there's parallels with the German Olympics of 1936, when Leni Riefenstahl directed films whilst Hitler moved his Third Reich emblems further into prominence and hid the anti-Semitic posters which had been placed in Berlin.

Now that a strong letter of protest has been issued by a coalition of Nobel Prize Winners, Athletes and some politicians, it at least sets the stage for some close scrutiny of what is happening.

If the Olympics are supposed to be about peace and international co-operation, then China's President Hu Jintao needs to fix a bloody thing or two. China is buying two-thirds of Sudan's oil and selling weapons to Khartoum which can only further support the Dafur massacre. The silence about Dafur inside China is now being emulated with attempts to include gagging clauses to prevent discussion of the politics by athletes planning to attend the event.
UK's politicians are mixed up on this one at the moment. Olympics minister Tessa Jowell says that calling for a boycott of this summer's Games over the Darfur crisis does not serve any purpose.

Meanwhile Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, is under pressure to take a stronger line during his visit than Gordon Brown did recently in Beijing.

China wants to draw a distinction between the games and human rights by saying linking them would "politicise" the Olympics. I hope some of the politicians and the major sponsors involved learn lessons from the history of Berlin.

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