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China and the West: parallel worlds

August 2, 2008

Jacquelin Magnay, Beijing
The Age (Australia)
August 1, 2008

WITH one week to go before the opening ceremony of the Beijing
Olympics, host nation China stands in the centre of a global
diplomatic storm, sparked by its insistence of strict internet
censorship, but broadening yesterday to include human rights abuses.

US President George Bush declared that he would use his visit to
Beijing for the opening ceremony to press for religious freedoms and
human rights.
China blocks access to websites

The IOC Media Commission confirmed that some internet sites have been
blocked by the Chinese, but these were unrelated to the Olympics.

China responded by calling America's intervention rude and saying it
gave succour to "hostile anti-China forces".

The trans-Pacific spat came as China and the International Olympic
Committee were condemned around the world for striking a deal that
allows China to back down on a promise to open up to the world during
the Games.

Yesterday more than 150 websites were blocked in China.

Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith, said Australia
had urged China to be more transparent and said he was dismayed at
the misleading actions of the IOC.

He noted that IOC officials had apologised, and "on the basis of what
I've read, it was well worth giving and required to be given".

And Greens leader Bob Brown said that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's
credibility would be shattered when he stood in the same row at the
opening ceremony with Chinese leader Hu Jintao.

"He should boycott the ceremony. By standing there he gives
credibility to and endorses China's police state," he said.

Mr Bush's spokeswoman said the president had spoken about the
restricted internet access at a meeting with Chinese dissidents.

"We want to see more access for reporters, we want to see more access
for everybody in China," spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

The US House of Representatives voted 419 to 1 to demand China
"immediately end abuses of the human rights of its citizens, to cease
repression of Tibetan and Uighur citizens, and to end its support for
the governments of Sudan and Burma (Myanmar)".

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said "the US side has
rudely interfered in China's internal affairs".

Chinese authorities hit out at other international critics of its
censorship, saying they will not allow any outside influences to harm
its national interest. Beijing Olympics spokesman Sun Weide said many
websites were difficult to browse because "they have spread content
that is banned by the Chinese laws".

IOC President Jacques Rogge -- who had said only two weeks ago:
"There will be no censorship of the internet" -- arrived in the
Chinese capital yesterday and immediately met senior Beijing organisers.

His office said while there had been discussions about blocking
pornographic sites or sites sensitive to the national security, there
was no deal done with Chinese authorities. "It would be incorrect to
say that we knew in advance that China was to restrict certain sites
and we are pushing for those restrictions to be blocked," IOC
spokeswoman Giselle Davies said.

IOC press commission chief Australian Kevan Gosper said: "It's clear
that I have been providing, on behalf of the IOC, incomplete information."

Broadcasters, such as Channel Seven, NBC and BBC, all of which have
paid hundreds of millions of dollars for television rights, were
reluctant to comment about the censorship.

But Amnesty International's China campaign co-ordinator, Sophie Peer,
said: "We don't believe the IOC has been effectively putting pressure
on the Chinese authorities. They say they are behind the scenes, but
we see no evidence."

The International Federation of Journalists general secretary Aidan
White called for the website restrictions to be lifted. There are
also tight restrictions on broadcasting around the city. Beijing
officials have limited broadcasting from Tiananmen Square to certain
times. All interviews are banned in the square at all times.

"We learn with dismay from the Chinese Government that some internet
sites are blocked," said Mr White. "This is a serious breach of the
promise given that all journalists, particularly those in the Main
Press Centre for the Games, would have unfettered access to the
internet. We demand that all restrictions are lifted so that our
colleagues can work freely and search access to the information they
need.Censorship has no place at the Olympic Games."

Amnesty International researcher Mark Allison said censorship at the
Olympic Games was compromising fundamental human rights and betraying
the Olympic values.

"This blatant media censorship adds one more broken promise that
undermines the claim that the Games would help improve human rights
in China," said Mr Allison.
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