Accessibility links

China: U.S. Congressman Seeks To Deny Olympics To Beijing

By Gabriela Pecic

Beijing is the leading candidate among five cities hoping to be designated the host for the Olympic Games in 2008. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), now meeting in Moscow, will make its decision on 13 July. Some members of the U.S. Congress support a non-binding resolution that they hope will persuade the IOC to choose another city because of China's record on human rights. RFE/RL's Gabriela Pecic reports from Washington.

Washington, 11 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Some members of the U.S. Congress are hoping to pass a resolution saying that the American people oppose holding the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing because of China's poor human rights record.

Members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are meeting in Moscow where, among other things, they will choose a site for the 2008 Summer Games, and will make their decision on 13 July. The leading candidates are Beijing, Paris and Toronto, Canada. Istanbul, Turkey, and Osaka, Japan, are also in the running.

In Washington, Congressman Tom Lantos (D-California) has sponsored a resolution in the House of Representatives opposing Beijing's effort to host the Games. He told a news conference on 10 July that the measure has no official standing with the IOC. But he said it may influence the decision.

Lantos noted that in 1993 he sponsored a similar resolution, which passed both houses of Congress unanimously. At the time, Beijing and Sydney, Australia, were the leading contenders to host the 2000 Olympics -- and Sydney eventually was chosen as the site for the Games. Lantos says similar political pressure this year can again deny Olympic prestige to an undemocratic government.

He and Senator Nancy Pelosi (D-California), who also appeared at the news conference, expressed particular dismay that China would build stadiums for some of the Olympic contests on sites where recently the government held mass rallies at which prisoners convicted of capital crimes were publicly condemned to death. Lantos said these would not be suitable for the Games.

"Some of the facilities that Beijing hopes will be erected -- they don't yet exist -- are on ground that lately have been used for mass political executions attended by vast numbers of people. This is not the way we want to think of the Olympics in the year 2008."

But Lantos said the leaders of the House of Representatives, who decide which legislation will be put up for a vote, have not scheduled his resolution this week, even though the IOC will make its decision so soon. He said he wonders whether they are intimidated by the powerful American business interests that seek to profit from unfettered trade with China. Or perhaps, he said, they are swayed by U.S. President George W. Bush's argument that it is better to work with China to help it improve its human rights record than to punish it.

Also attending the news conference was Gary Bauer, who ran for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party in 2000 and lost to Bush. Bauer said America is strong enough to be able to choose morality over commerce. He recalled the televised image of the Chinese protester who blocked the path of a tank during the pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

"When you are a great power like the United States, you always have a very clear decision. You can either be on the side of the guy standing in front of the tank that we saw on our television sets 12 years ago in Tiananmen Square, or you could be on the side of the guy that's in the tank. I think we have to be on the side of the guy standing in front of the tank."

Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota), who also spoke at the briefing, said he has no quarrel with the people of China, and that he hopes they can one day be hosts of the Olympics. But because of their government's repressive policies, now is not the time to hold the Games in their country.

"I really look forward to the day when Beijing can host the Olympics. I look forward to that day. And that should be a day when the Chinese government is no longer locking people up, when it's no longer torturing people, where there is the respect for human rights."

Claude Barfield is the coordinator of trade policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, an independent policy analysis foundation. He told RFE/RL that the moral issue is irrelevant to the Olympic Games.

"After all the Olympics we had before, countries that were not democratic, the Olympic games in thirties were in Germany, so the Chinese had come a long way since the repressive measures of Beijing."

Furthermore, Barfield said, he doubts that Lantos' resolution -- even if passed -- would have any effect on the IOC's decision. He said he also doubts that the congressman's 1993 resolution had any effect on the choice of Sydney for the 2000 games.