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Olympic Boycott Debate

04/01/08 5:55PM By Mike Martin
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(HOST) Commentator Mike Martin teaches French at Champlain Valley Union High School and writes about issues of culture and education. He heard today that the Olympic Torch had arrived in Beijing for this summer's Olympic Games in China. And he couldn't help wondering why the debate in Europe about China's human rights record isn't taking place here in the U.S. too.

(MARTIN) In France right now, there is a protest poster that we haven't seen much of here in the United States. It shows 5 interlocking handcuffs on a black background, and it's a parody of the famous Olympic rings. The text says, "Beijing 2008? Gold Medal for Human Rights Violations."  Another version says, "Beijing 2008: The World's Biggest Prison for Journalists and Internet-Users."

Unlike here in the U.S., there is a lively debate taking place in Europe as to whether or not to boycott this summer's Olympics Games in China. Last week, French President Sarkozy said that the Chinese repression in Tibet was so bad he wouldn't rule out the possibility of staying home. And his Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights, Rama Yade, said she looked forward to meeting the Dalai Lama when he's in France this summer. The Dalai Lama, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has continued to call on Tibetans to use only non-violent resistance; but, even so, last week the Chinese Government called the spiritual leader "a human face with the heart of a beast."

Unfortunately, the Dalai Lama isn't the only Nobel Peace Laureate on the wrong side of China's power. China is Burma's biggest arms-supplier, investor, and apologist on the world stage; and Burma is horrible when it comes to human rights. Its military government continues its persecution of Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was democratically elected Prime Minister in 1990. The Chinese-sponsored junta also continues to beat and imprison peaceful protesters and Buddhist monks.

Meanwhile, in its other client state - Sudan - the Chinese Government is protecting another brutal regime. As the genocide in Darfur drags on, Sudan supplies China with oil and China blocks U.N. resolutions to help Darfur.

I remember after the Tiananmen Square massacre of democracy protesters in Beijing, that there was a debate about China and human rights here in the U.S. At the time, the question was whether or not to grant China most-favored-nation status in trade. Some said China needed to improve its human rights record first, while others claimed that increased trade would democratize China and make it a more liberal society like our own. Looking back now, it's easy to see that capitalism doesn't necessarily improve human rights, and our trade with China has been dangerously one-sided.

So as the Beijing Olympic Games draw near, here we are again with a unique opportunity to send a message to China's leaders. Some Americans have spoken out: Stephen Spielberg resigned from an official Olympic committee to protest China's involvement in Darfur; and Vermont's own Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are protesting the Olympics with a cross-country convoy to raise awareness.

So, even if our own track record hasn't been that great lately, hopefully more Americans will speak up like the Europeans and tell the world we do care about human rights. The only alternative is silence - and that would be the wrong message to send.
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