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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Rights advocates risk backfire in Olympic activism

July 3, 2008

By Daniel Trotta
Reuters
Wednesday July 2, 2008

NEW YORK, July 2 (Reuters) - Western activists trying to use
Beijing's staging of the Olympic games as an opportunity to promote
civil rights risk provoking resentment among the Chinese people, U.S.
China analysts say.

Advocates for Tibetan home rule, press freedom in China, rights of
political prisoners and patients' rights are all trying to grab a
share of the Olympic spotlight in the hope the communist government
in Beijing will liberalize and reform.

Chinese dissidents, foreign human rights groups like Amnesty
International and the United States and European Union regularly
criticize the Chinese government and the pitch has increased with the
approach of the Olympics.

Human rights activists have been calling for world leaders to boycott
the Aug. 8 opening ceremonies. In the latest bid to exert pressure,
two U.S. Congressmen urged President George W. Bush to rethink
attending the Games after they were prevented from meeting Chinese
human rights activists in Beijing.

Some experts say the increased pressure could backfire.

"For groups in Western countries to come along now and try to use the
Games to pursue a human rights objective, instead of being
appreciated by the Chinese public, it will probably be resented,"
said Richard Bush, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

"Instead of driving a wedge between the public and the government it
will probably unite them," he said.

A resurgent China is relishing its moment in the world spotlight and
many Chinese may resent being lectured by foreigners during their
moment of glory.

RIGHTS AND THE OLYMPICS

"It's not what the Games are about. The Chinese don't want that to be
what the Games are about, and none of the athletes do," said Drew
Thompson, director of China studies at the Nixon Center.

"It's like streakers at a sporting event," he said of potential
protests during the Games. "It's kind of inappropriate. At least
that's the way the Chinese see it."

Amnesty International, however, says its campaign is based on
promises to improve human rights that Chinese officials made in order
to win the Games and says Amnesty is echoing the concerns raised by
activists and academics inside China.

"The Olympic charter talks about the importance of the Olympics
leaving a positive legacy. We're trying to ensure the Olympics does
have a positive legacy for people in China, which is something that
people in China would welcome, too," said Mark Allison, East Asia
researcher for Amnesty.

In one campaign linked to the Olympics, Human Rights Watch has been
advocating for greater press freedom for foreign and Chinese
reporters, saying the Chinese government reneged on promises to let
reporters travel and interview people freely.

A 2007 law grants wider latitude to foreign reporters but does not
extend to Chinese reporters and is due to expire after the Games,
Human Rights Watch says.

Bob Dietz, the Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect
Journalists, said he had hoped the 2007 reform would lead to freedom
for some of the country's 26 jailed journalists and ease pressure on
Chinese reporters.

But then came the deadly riots in Tibet in March.

"Since Tibet we have found those rules dashed, frankly. People are
not free to travel about the country," Dietz said. "We're getting
more and more reports that people who talk to journalists are harassed."

The committee and Human Rights Watch have joined forces to inform
journalists covering the Games about Chinese restrictions on the press.

American physician Allen Keller works with Tibetan torture victims as
director of the Bellevue/New York University Program for Survivors of
Torture and said he believed there was still a chance China would
"engage in candor and transparency" on contentious issues before the Games.

"While I appreciate the Games are about bringing the youth of the
world together and a celebration of that, the host country by
definition is saying 'Welcome to the world, come on in, world,' and
will face greater scrutiny," Keller said. "You can't have it both
ways." (Editing by David Storey)
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