There are a lot of people not taking very well to the torch run for the upcoming Beijing Olympics. There have been attempts to douse it in Greece and now France, and when it comes through San Francisco, in its sole North American appearance before the Olympiad, it will likely face many more protesters rightfully offended by China’s human rights record, actions towards Tibet, and indifference towards the genocide in Darfur. San Francisco has been mixed about the approach, as the city council has expressed its disapproval of China’s actions and a sizable part of its populace is ready to hit the streets.
Now, this is reaching the presidential level, as senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) is calling on President Bush to do as his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy has already announced he will do unless some conditions are met: boycott the opening ceremonies as a matter of protest against Chinese human rights policies.
“The violent clashes in Tibet and the failure of the Chinese government to use its full leverage with Sudan to stop the genocide in Darfur are opportunities for Presidential leadership,” Clinton said in a statement. “These events underscore why I believe the Bush administration has been wrong to downplay human rights in its policy towards China. At this time, and in light of recent events, I believe President Bush should not plan on attending the opening ceremonies in Beijing, absent major changes by the Chinese government.”
It’s a nice sentiment, and an admirable one (if also done to score some political points; Democratic primary folk will eat this up), but just how practical is it? We have to consider an uncomfortable truth when pointing the finger at Beijing: if the upcoming Olympiad were being held on American soil, you can bet that the torch run would have been just as problematic with protesters opposing our current involvement in Iraq, and wanting to use the same methods from their leaders to send a message.
So, where to go with this? A partial boycott of the opening ceremonies would certainly say something, but President Bush is not likely to do that. It will largely be a symbolic gesture to those leaders who do stay away — but since the whole Olympics is really about money more than being concerned about the politics of who is hosting them, the political awareness will likely be largely limited to those invested in it as something other than sporting spectacle and the political change will be much less than anyone will predict.
Photo: AP/Paul Sakuma