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Games won't change China's repressive ways

July 29, 2008

The Gazette (Canada)
July 28, 2008

Montreal -- These must be trying times for the aging autocrats who
rule China, as they prepare their nation for an invasion they
invited. More than 10,000 athletes from around the world will soon
arrive in Beijing - some are already there - for the 2008 summer
Olympics, bringing in their wake a media army several times that
size. It's a prospect intimidating enough to make the sternest
apparatchik pause and wonder if this was such a good idea after all.

But with the tone-deaf thoroughness shared by the masters of most
oppressive regimes, China's leaders are making frantic efforts to
assure that nothing goes wrong to mar their nation's moment in the
sun. And as so often happens in these cases, the more they flail
about, the worse they make things.

The regime in Beijing has already broken many of the promises it made
to the International Olympic Committee to win these the Games. Its
notion of enhancing human rights, for example, appears to consist of
setting up a couple of carefully monitored "protest pens" far from
the Games venues, where dissidents (properly licensed, of course)
will be able to air their views - as long as they don't talk about
Tibet or Darfur, that is.

In fact, according to many observers, the approach of the Games has
brought out the worst in Beijing's officials. Security officials have
been busily rounding up what they consider to be the more troublesome
dissidents and warning them to leave town until after the foreign
hordes have left. They've also clamped down on visas, to keep
international human-rights activists - or "foreign agitators," if you
prefer - from stirring things up.

Higher up the food chain, a little bullying seems to have made some
world leaders reconsider their threats not to show up for the opening
ceremonies. A "skip France" campaign, for example, which reduced
Chinese visitors to that country to a trickle, might have had
something to do with President Nicolas Sarkozy's backing down on
linking his attendance to improved human rights in Tibet.

The Games will, no doubt be dazzling - a tribute to the Chinese
people if not to their regime. And Chinese athletes will probably do
very well. Autocracies are often adept at producing squads of elite
athletes in short order.

But don't be fooled by the glitter. Despite its idealistic claims,
the Olympics will come and go, leaving behind no visible mark on the
shameful human-rights record that damages the world's perception of
China so severely and so persistently.
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