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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Calling China's Human Rights Bluff

August 3, 2008

By Jim Hoagland
The Washington Post
August 3, 2008; B07

Every aspect of life under totalitarian governments is political,
from sports to culture to business. President Bush and other world
leaders attending the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics this
week should stop pretending otherwise, especially to the Chinese people.

Bush, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Australian Prime Minister
Kevin Rudd and their peers will be at the games precisely because
they are ruling politicians, not javelin throwers or sprinters. Their
protestations that politics and sports should not mix on this
occasion are exercises in denying their own identities.

They should instead make their visits openly political occasions.
They should publicly focus on China's human rights record and its
promises to permit greater personal freedoms during the Olympics.
Those promises have been bent and broken as Chinese internal security
forces have used the Games as a reason to jail dissidents and keep
them away from the world media.

These Olympics are all about politics -- Chinese politics. As I wrote
last year from Beijing, the government intends to bring the world
onto the Chinese stage, not vice versa. The governing Central
Committee wants to show the nation its competence in managing a
prestige event and the global acceptance it has gained in the 19
years since the Tiananmen Square massacre briefly made China a pariah state.

Sarkozy and Bush have each received lists of prominent political
prisoners and requests that their cases be raised directly with
President Hu Jintao in Beijing and with the Chinese media. Doing this
would go a long way toward justifying the two leaders' decisions to
go to Beijing.

Bush took an initial step toward that goal last week by welcoming to
the White House a small but symbolically important group of Chinese
dissidents, including Wei Jingsheng, a pioneer of the pro-democracy
movement; Harry Wu, who has publicized China's gulag system; and
representatives of the country's underground Christian movement, the
Uighur minority and Tibet's exile community.

This is, in Chinese terms, an eye-popping list, similar to the red
flag that Hu would wave in front of Bush if he were to host Osama bin
Laden, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in
the official Zhongnanhai compound in Beijing just before visiting
Washington. While Bush's meeting received relatively little notice in
the United States, it triggered sharp propaganda attacks from Beijing.

The White House made no attempt to inhibit the president's guests
from circulating a full e-mail account of the meeting, complete with
quotes from Bush promising to "talk about human rights" with Hu "face to face."

This was a calculated move and not an oversight by the White House,
which similarly did not object two years ago when Chinese Christian
activists met with Bush and then provided me with their notes for a
column shortly after the encounter.

The activists at that time invited Bush to worship with "underground"
Christians -- who meet in private, without official sanction -- on
his next trip to China, and the president seemed open to the idea. He
should follow through this week, as part of a broader international
effort to impress on his official hosts the importance of freedom of
religion, speech and access to information.

Amnesty International, which estimates that half a million people are
being held without charges in China, issued a report last week
accusing the Beijing government of using the Olympics as a pretext to
"intensify" political repression.

In France, Sarkozy's decision to go to the Olympics has been
particularly controversial. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, at one time a
political rebel but today a senior European parliamentarian, asked
the French leader to plead for the freedom of seven political
prisoners, including Huang Qi, arrested in Chengdu in June for trying
to organize the victims of the Sichuan earthquake to demand help.

The International Olympic Committee has shown that it will not
forcefully demand that China live up to the promises it made in
winning the right to host the games. This is hardly surprising for an
organization that too often has allowed its approval to be bought by
unrealistic promises or corrupt favors to its members. That leaves it
to the national leaders who go to Beijing to rescue the political
reputation of the 2008 Olympics.

Such a rescue will require commitment and coordination among
like-minded leaders such as Bush and Sarkozy. They should take their
cue from the Czech Vaclav Havel and the South African Desmond Tutu,
who have issued an appeal for human rights to share the spotlight
with the medal count at this global celebration of human perfectibility.

jimhoagland@washpost.com
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