Given China's objectionable behavior in recent years-in human
rights, trade, nuclear proliferation, aid to Iran's Revolutionary
Guards, support for genocidal regimes in Sudan and vicious
dictatorships in Burma and North Korea-it is no wonder that dozens
of frustrated members of the U.S. House of Representatives are
calling for an American boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Realistically, a U.S. boycott of the Beijing Olympics is not
feasible. However, the advent of a new Olympic year is certainly an
appropriate time for the Administration and Congress to call
attention to the increasingly repressive character of the Chinese
Rising Frustration with China
In August 2001, a skeptical Heritage Foundation cautiously
welcomed the award of the 2008 Olympic Games venue to Beijing as an
opportunity to "compel Beijing to adopt true Olympic values." In
the intervening years, China has disappointed even modest hopes for
change and reform. More disappointing still has been the
Administration's and Congress's reaction to Beijing's disregard of
human rights in China and abroad.
Earlier this month, eight prominent Republicans in Congress
introduced House Resolution 610, calling for a boycott of the
games. They elicited a great deal of sympathy from those in the
policy community who are concerned about China's dismal record on
human rights. Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) introduced her
own resolution that expressed similar concerns from the Democratic
side of the aisle, specifically delineating China's economic and
military support for Sudan's genocidal regime.
The boycott resolutions make an important statement, but they do
not address the real problem. Members of Congress might simply vote
for one version or the other, dust off their hands, and move on to
the next order of business. Not only are House resolutions
non-binding, but also they are generally seen on Capitol Hill as
adequate substitutions for action that require no follow-up.
Parallels With 1936
The tragedy of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin was not that the free
world participated but that nobody used the limelight of the Games
to make an issue of Germany's deepening persecutions of Jews, its
remilitarization, its occupation of the Rhineland, or its threats
against Austria as it resisted being labeled "part of the German
The free European countries, as well as the United States, not
only failed to use the 1936 Games as a bully pulpit from which to
shame Germany's Nazi leaders; they actually downplayed German
violence, threats, and excesses. A broad international boycott
certainly would have been preferable to the fawning over Germany
that took place.
Similarly, the free world may use the Beijing Olympics as
another stage on which to fawn over China's new wealth and power.
This is already happening, as U.S. businesses try to curry favor
with the Beijing regime and even U.S. officials downplay China's
emergence as a ruthless superpower.
The Washington Post recently reported that President
George W. Bush's ambassador in Beijing "threw a fit" when he heard
of the President's plans to meet with Chinese Christian dissidents
in May 2006. He called the meeting "inappropriate" and
warned it would damage relations with the Beijing regime. This
year, columnist Robert Novak reported almost a month after the fact
that President Bush met secretly in the White House with the
Catholic bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen, a figure reviled
by Beijing. According to Novak, the U.S. ambassador in Beijing
"weighed in against a Bush-Zen meeting."
The image of the President of the United States meeting in
secret with Chinese religious dissidents and Catholic cardinals
because the State Department fears offending the Chinese Communist
regime gives the impression that these meetings had something to
hide. In the same way, both President Bush and President Clinton
felt obliged to keep their meetings with the Tibetan religions
leader, the Dalai Lama-a Nobel peace prize laureate-low-key for
fear of offending Beijing.
President Ronald Reagan's recently published diary revealed his
deep suspicions about a "China lobby" in his State Department that
cared more about smooth relations with the Chinese Communists than
about the legitimacy of America's commitment to human rights. Some
current State officials are uncomfortable with the easygoing
attitude toward China. The following is from a speech given by
Ambassador Jay Lefkowitz to a Heritage Foundation audience in
As the world's attention turns to China for the 2008 Olympics,
does anyone seriously believe a massive, abused, and imperiled
refugee population will go unnoticed? I certainly hope not, and
this is an area where the international media can play a big role
of exposing what's going on. Hopefully there will be human interest
stories that will spotlight the oppression and repression of the
North Korean people-both in North Korean and indeed, even those who
are fortunate enough to escape, but then languish in hiding in
northeastern China. This will be an enduring black mark not only
for North Korea, but for China too-unless China takes action.
Boycott Call Catches Beijing's Attention
The "Boycott Beijing" campaign caught fire when Hollywood
actress-turned-activist Mia Farrow championed the theme in
newspaper ads in the spring of 2007. The ads called on China to
cease its weapons and financial support for Sudanese genocide.
China reacted to mounting pressure by dispatching a "peace envoy"
to the Darfur region, and then claimed to have "urged Khartoum to
be flexible on a peace plan." In reality, China's "peace envoy"
returned to Beijing to report that "everything is basically
stable." China's state media then blamed "Sudanese secessionists
and external hostile elements" (read: the United States) for
"viciously 'promoting' and publicizing the issue." Instead, said
the Chinese media, "the Darfur issue is a pure internal affair of
While China has not exerted any real pressure on Khartoum, Ms.
Farrow has done more to get Beijing's attention than all the State
Department's polite exhortations put together have done to get
Beijing to pressure Khartoum to accept the "hybrid" force with "a
predominantly African character" that is now being desultorily
assembled by the United Nations and the Organization of African
Unity. The move is seriously inadequate, but it is more than the
Chinese regime wanted to do.
This raises the question: If not a boycott, then what? If the
Administration and Congress are serious about China's persistent
violation of human rights, labor rights, and civil and political
rights, along with its myriad other depredations, they should do
something more meaningful than pass symbolic, generally ineffectual
Both the Administration and Congress must get into the habit of
seeing the regime in Beijing for what it is-a Communist
dictatorship that suppresses religious, political, and labor
freedoms at home and bullies its neighbors. It supports brother
dictatorships around the globe, whether they are major or minor
perpetrators of genocide, nuclear blackmail, slave labor, and
suppression of freedoms.
Boycotting the Olympics would not change any of this. The calls
from Congress, however-like Ms. Farrow's effort-do have the welcome
effect of focusing attention on the dreadful state of human rights
in China and the regime's support for tyranny abroad. American
policymakers must use the occasion to call China out on its myriad
domestic abuses and irresponsibility abroad and fully enforce
related sanctions already on the books.
To do any less than this would be a betrayal of the bargain
America made with its own conscience, and would be a lost
opportunity of 1936 proportions.
John J. Tkacik,
Jr., is Senior Research Fellow in China, Taiwan, and Mongolia
Policy in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage