China and the Olympics

by Jonathan Wallace

It was a serious miscalculation to award China the Olympic games for 2008. As I wrote here two months ago, China beats dissidents to death in prison, executes people for trivial offenses like tax evasion and sells their organs, destroys Catholic churches, locks up Web publishers, and has recently been on a campaign of arresting Chinese visitors who are American citizens or permanent residents. Making China the host of the games which are ostensibly the international symbol of democratic coopration sends the message that these are little foibles, easily to be overlooked. Yet if the ultimate sign of an outlaw country is that it regularly murders its own citizens, extrajudicially or in trials lacking fair process, China is one of the very worst places on earth.

As the self-proclaimed leader among Western democracies, our hypocrisy is profound. Democratic and Republican administrations alike proclaim that "engaging" China will "democratize" it. What this really means is that we will entice China into capitalism, opening it as a huge market to American and Western goods and services. Here the argument is that a country desiring private markets will imbibe some democracy along the way, but recent history has over and over again proven this wrong. Chile under Pinochet was completely capitalist, but dissidents were thrown into the sea from helicopters. The argument that there is a link, that capitalism drags democracy behind it, is completely false, and is advanced only to misdirect us. The glaring truth is that we care completely if a company trades with us, and not at all if it shoots its own citizens while doing so. China is a far more brutal place than Cuba, yet we engage with the one and boycott the other. The only distinction is that China is privatizing, while Cuba still proclaims belief in a state economy.

The decision to hold the Olympics in China in 2008 is about as sensible as it was to hold them in Berlin in 1934. The Chinese, like Hitler did, will attempt to put on a show--happy, prosperous, loyal citizens, showing every sign of China's readiness to be a committed memory of the international community. But they will probably have to lock up a lot of people just before the athletes get there, to make sure the show goes smoothly. If China's democrats, the people we should really care about, were suicidal enough to come out again in Tienamen Square during the Olympics, China would kill as many of them as before, without a second thought.

The IOC shouldn't have rewarded China with the games, and the U.S. shouldn't go. We are enabling murder, not ending it.