07/11/2008, 00.00
CHINA

World leaders at the Olympic-market

by Bernardo Cervellera
None of the leaders speak of a boycott. Nicolas Sarkozy’s u-turn is of particular note. The question is not whether to boycott the Games ceremonies, but to involve China in meaningful dialogue on human and religious rights before, during and after the Olympics. So far the West’s preference remains that of exploiting China and it’s economy.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Perhaps it is because of the current air of general economic crises; or the promise of new contracts with the Chinese power house…. The fact remains that during meetings with the Chinese premier Hu Jintao in Japan, the leaders of the eight most powerful nations, bit by bit dropped their guard and promised (some even swearing) that yes, they will be present at the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games due to take place in Beijing on August 8th, at 8 minutes past 8 in the evening.   The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, alone remains reticent, but for the rest, the European Union en masse, represented during this six month term by France and Nicolas Sarkozy, will take their seats in the “Bird’s Nest” stadium.  There among 91 thousand guests, the French President will enjoy the spectacular Olympics that are set to be a chorus of praise to the greatness of China, the new emperor of the world economy.

Sarkozy’s 180° u-turn is no less spectacular.  Only a few months ago, in the wake of the repression in Tibet, he had placed a series of conditions on his participation: respect for human rights, dialogue with the Dalai Lama, etc… His position was so hard-line that the Chinese reacted by boycotting all products “made in France”, starting with those sold by the supermarket chain Carrefour.

To claim that China has changed in these few months is too much: Chinese and foreign media are subjected to controls and censorship; activists and religious people of note are in prisons; dialogue with the Dalai Lama has merely provided even more opportunities to offend the Tibetan leader… Nothing has changed whatsoever: it has only become increasingly evident that the Olympics are in fact, a market.  This not only refers to the sponsors and the suspicions surrounding the International Olympic Committee’s management.  The very presence of the world leaders has become a selling point.  Attendence in exchange for favours.  Sarkozy’s official declaration reads that the French President will be in Beijing to “deepen his strategic friendship with China” including perhaps contracts for Airbus, construction of nuclear power plants and high speed railways.

The idea to boycott the Games opening ceremony never was taken seriously.  First of all because it was contradictory: Beijing perhaps should never have been given the Games in 2001.  Moreover, its too late now anyway and the (economic) “games” have already been played : no sponsor (or nation) will give up in this last month, after having funded these Games for the past 7 years.  If they want Beijing to commit to human rights, religious freedom, dignity in the workplace, ecology, then there is time before, during and after the Games. Sarkozy, Bush, Berlusconi, Fukuda, etc… can be asked to ensure that human rights are always on the commercial agenda. Rather than a boycott it is far more important that our governments force China and its universities to open up to discussions on human rights ; that all those who trade with Beijing draw up contracts that demand ethical working conditions: better treatment of workers, freedom of association, freedom of religion for local communities, and the release of some dissidents.  In short a meaningful relationship with the Chinese power-house, and not just a commercial partnership. This is why we will not boycott the Beijing Olympics: they are an opportunity to get to know the Chinese people, to relate to civil society (which is a far cry from governing authorities),  to build bridges and a reciprocal knowledge, that is stronger and more solid than the sponsorships and exploitation of a low cost labour force.

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