Commentary Magazine


Olympic Repression

“Right now, the evidence is that the Olympics are causing the human rights climate to deteriorate, not improve,” said Minky Worden, media director of Human Rights Watch, in a Reuters interview released today.

She is, unfortunately, correct. China’s Communist Party is not only cracking down on dissidents and other Chinese, it is trying to seal the country, almost airtight. In the months before the Games, which begin on August 8, Beijing cadres are arbitrarily canceling scheduled events, like international academic conferences, in order to control the flow of outlanders into the country. That’s in addition to denying visas, expelling foreigners, and once again prohibiting non-Chinese from traveling freely inside the modern Chinese state. Police and soldiers are even preventing people from talking about the Games in China’s magnificent capital city.

The Chinese central government is now implementing social-control measures borrowed from the Maoist days of the People’s Republic, and the country’s political system is in many ways more repressive than it was in the late 1980s. “Like leaders in South Korea a generation ago, the Chinese authorities believe they can control the Olympic process, and they are confident that they can deflect any internal or external pressures for reform that the Olympics creates,” writes Worden in her recently released book, China’s Great Leap.

The Chinese leaders are right, of course. After all, they know that no foreign leader will stand up to them, especially President Bush. Dubya seems to have lost his voice when it comes to Beijing’s repression. The best he can manage are empty-headed statements that engagement will make China freer, but that is demonstrably not the case when it comes to the Olympics. Worden correctly notes that in the long run the Games “may well produce permanent pressures for reform,” but none of that pressure is coming from the American leader who tells us that freedom is “God’s gift to humanity.”