The State Department has released its annual report on human rights around the world. It’s not going to offer any comfort to those who, like the International Olympic Committee or President Bush, believe that the Games are forcing the Chinese to take human rights more seriously, or that the Olympics are just about sports.
Given the rise of lawless government in Russia and Pakistan, the fact that China was dropped from list of the ten worst abusers is nothing to be proud of: this is classic grading on a curve. When you move to on the ground realities, the report notes that, far from China opening up as the Game draw nearer, “The government [has] tightened restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, particularly in anticipation of and during sensitive events, including increased efforts to control and censor the Internet.” It also mentions the reports of large-scale forced relocations in Beijing to make way for Olympic projects.
None of this is going to make the slightest impression on the IOC, or on U.S. participation in the Games. And to anyone who has been awake for the past sixty years, the IOC could hardly be more discredited than it already is. As Arch Puddington pointed out in November, there is nothing new about the IOC truckling to dictators. What the IOC prizes most in a host country is not human rights: it’s order.
This is why the IOC has such an ambivalent relationship with the U.S., which on the one hand is the source of a lot of corporate money, but on the other is a disorderly place where institutions like State publish critical reports on China, and where the press exposes the IOC’s love of bribes, as it did before the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
The kind of press the IOC likes is well-illustrated by the International Herald Tribune‘s story on the report, which editorializes furiously that Iraq and Afghanistan “account for a huge chunk of the U.S. defense budget, and a disproportionate amount of diplomatic attention and resources.” For both the IOC and the Tribune, the problem is not what’s going on: the problem is that people persist in talking and trying to do something about it.