Olympic protest: what will China do?

2008-02-16 00:00

Beijing — The Chinese government insists that this year’s Olympic Games are not political.

Yang Chunlin has cause to disagree. Arrested recently for distributing a petition titled “We don’t want the Olympic Games, we want human rights”, he goes on trial next week charged with “inciting subversion of state power”. He faces up to five years in jail.

Politics has burst on to the Olympic scene with Steven Spielberg’s resignation this week as artistic adviser to the Beijing games in protest against China’s Darfur policy. Spielberg accused Beijing of not putting enough pressure on its ally, the Sudanese government, to help end the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao responded on Thursday, saying that “linking political issues with the Olympic Games is not in line with the Olympic spirit”.

Foreign critics of Chinese policy on a range of issues — from Taiwanese independence to Tibet, from Darfur to press freedoms — are gearing up to use the Olympic Games as leverage in their campaigns.

Beijing, however, is making its Games a powerful symbol of China’s emergence as a world power. “It is not only an international sports event, but also a very important political mission … it can also arouse Chinese patriotism,” said a 2006 opinion article in the People’s Daily.

The British Olympic Association caused an uproar last week with a plan to make British athletes sign a contract pledging not to comment on “politically sensitive issues” in Beijing. The BOA says it will reword the contract to conform to the Olympic charter, which says: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious, or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites …”

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