16/04/2008 - 22:00

Carrying a torch for democracy

16/04/2008 - 22:00


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Beijing’s Olympics are coming and, as widely expected, the authoritarian Chinese government hosting them faces ongoing embarrassing incidents.

Carrying a torch for democracy

Beijing’s Olympics are coming and, as widely expected, the authoritarian Chinese government hosting them faces ongoing embarrassing incidents.

Lighting the flame at Olympia was a public relations disaster, with demonstrators unfurling, during that ceremony, a flag showing the Olympic rings as handcuffs,  signifying the imprisonment of China’s population by Beijing’s Orwellian Animal Farm policing methods.

That, not Chinese officials accepting the flame, attracted the media’s attention.

Beijing responded by jailing leading human rights campaigner, Hu Jia, for 40 months, alleging “incitement to subvert state power”.

Then there were fracas as the Olympic relay passed through London, Paris and San Francisco.

Earlier, film producer/director, Steven Spielberg, withdrew as the games’ artistic adviser because China’s authoritarian leaders have been inactive over the genocide in Darfur.

Mr Spielberg’s move prompted Human Rights Watch (HRW) to urge others with influence over Beijing, including major Western sponsors, to follow suit.

“Olympic corporate sponsors are putting their reputations at risk unless they work to convince the Chinese government to uphold the human rights pledges it made to bring the games to Beijing,” Cantonese speaker and HRW’s media director, Minky Worden, said.

“Human rights are under attack in China, and Olympic sponsors should use their considerable leverage to persuade Beijing to change policy.”  

This, of course, is most unlikely, so another effective protest approach is now needed.

Interestingly, international news agencies are having difficulty reaching Chinese diplomats worldwide for comments, with embassy and consular press officers claiming they’re too busy preparing for the games.

That may be so, but they’re also evading the world’s free press, a not-unexpected response by anyone having to defend the indefensible.

Clearly, Chinese officials are feeling the pressure of justified opposition to their authoritarian leadership, which is so effectively suppressing dissent inside China.

Its leaders want desperately to be seen as representatives of a normal country, which is, of course, something authoritarian China is not.

That said, the inevitable next question is: should Beijing’s Olympics be boycotted, as those in Moscow (1980) and Los Angeles (1984) were?

No authoritarian regime that treats its citizens like slaves – people without guaranteed rights – should be recipient of the glory of the Olympic tradition revived by Frenchman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, in 1896.

However, nor is it desirable, once the Olympics have been allocated years earlier, for democratic peoples to be called upon to resort to belated across-the-board censure, even when authoritarians like those presently controlling China are in question.

State Scene says this despite China having boycotted Moscow and now having the cheek to say the Olympics should be a purely sporting event.

We must also appreciate that it’s asking a lot of sportsmen and women to bear the full brunt of belated attempts to censure inhumane regimes.

Few athletes get more than one opportunity to be Olympians, which means total boycotts generally deny a chance of a lifetime.

And there’s also that other question highlighted by HRW, the equally complicated commercial considerations involving sponsors.

China’s Olympic organisers have learned from those who planned Atlanta’s 1996 Olympics, which were self-funded via big corporate sponsorship deals.

Beijing 2008 has to this point put in place a dozen worldwide Olympic partners – Coca Cola, Atos Origin, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, Lenovo, Manulife, Visa, McDonald’s, Omega, Panasonic and Samsung.

Each has bought the right, for big price tags in cash or kind, or both, to use the Olympic logo globally.

France’s Atos Origin, for instance, is building the entire computer network for the Olympics and is believed to be paying a combination of cash and services for its sponsorship deal.

The Lenovo Group, China’s top PC maker and the only Chinese company to be a Games global partner, intends showing off its technological prowess in computer products and build its brand globally, as Samsung did during the Seoul Games in 1988.

Lenovo designed the high-tech Olympic torch that’s been made to burn brightly, even on Mt Everest where it is scheduled to be as part of the 137,000-kilometre global relay route.

And there’s a dozen others in another category, called Beijing’s 2008 Partners, including the Bank of China, China Mobile (the world’s biggest mobile phone company), Volkswagon, Adidas, and Johnson & Johnson again.

Adidas, the German sports shoemaker, is believed to be paying $US100 million to use the Olympics logo.

A third category, simply called, Sponsors, has 10 companies, including BHP Billiton and American brewer, Budweiser.

Clearly it would be unfair to now deny these corporations, which are helping bankroll the Olympics, to reap the fruits of whatever it is their corporate chiefs agreed to pay.

So, is there perhaps another, equally effective way that freedom-loving peoples can express their disgust and disapproval of China’s authoritarians leadership, but without disadvantaging athletes and the investment of others?

The answer is yes, and the man who has highlighted it is another Frenchman…President Nicholas Sakorzy, a man of part-Hungarian ancestry (remember those Soviet tanks rumbling through Budapest in 1956?).

President Sarkozy has indicated he won’t be attending Beijing’s opening ceremony, something China’s authoritarians have gone to great trouble to ensure is bigger and more extravagant than any – even Sydney’s.

Clearly the Sarkozy approach would be the least disruptive but most effective in making a political statement to China’s leaders.

If Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd did likewise and the other leaders of all the parliamentary democracies followed suit, Beijing would certainly have been given the message, strong and straight.

Imagine, no President George W Bush; no British PM, Gordon Brown; no Chancellor Angela Merkel, no Mr Rudd, and so on, and on.

Our athletes would therefore be present while our heads of state would all abstain themselves from the event that really counts politically – the opening ceremony.

Australians, along with the athletes of all other competing democratic nations, could return with gold, silver and bronze, but without their countries having been symbolic accessories, via their elected leaders,

The Sarkozy approach is certainly the smart and principled way.

By adopting it, the world’s democracies and their athletes would win, while China’s leaders would lose, since the elected representatives of the democracies would be absent for the politically symbolic opening event.

Now, how can we individually contribute to helping ensure that our athletes participate, all Games financial backers are not hindered making profits, and the Chinese people who are denied human rights are not forgotten?

How can we remain loyal to our belief and respect in human rights for all and our democratic principles, which China’s authoritarian leaders continue to deny their people?

Although there’s no guaranteed outcome, the one thing we, as voters, can do is urge our federal MPs to urge Mr Rudd not to attend that opening ceremony.

That means writing to your federal MP and also sending a letter – snail mail or email – to Mr Rudd’s office urging that an Australian prime minister should go nowhere near the opening ceremony.

Those doing all this can stand tall as patriotic Australians and supporters of freedom, tolerance and parliamentary democracy.

And please don’t forget to add that, if Mr Rudd ignores your pro-human rights and pro-democracy appeals, you won’t be voting Labor at the next federal election.

Unfortunately that’s necessary since Mr Rudd has said he has every intention of attending the Olympics.

Shame on you, Mr Rudd, if your announcement means you’re planning to be at that opening ceremony.


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