The IOC and China: best friends forever
Addressing the world’s concerns about the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision to give the 2008 games to China, the Chinese government made a string of promises, which included improved human rights, blue skies, and unfettered internet access, among others.
Of the promises that have been impossible to keep, the others have just been outright broken. And with the IOC in its uniquely powerful position, in what way has it held Chinese feet to the fire? Well, they rolled over actually, accepted it as inevitable, and didn’t let any kind of principles get in the way.
The IOC of course has one eye, maybe both, on the money being chucked around at this spectacle. £22 billion will be spent on the Beijing Games (about triple the cost of 2004), with £151m of that going just on the opening ceremony.
Little is to be allowed to get in the way of the Olympic juggernaut. Since China was first given the games, more than 1.5 million people have been ‘relocated’ and seen their homes demolished, to make way for the big makeover. The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), already fuming at the IOC for completely ignoring China’s human rights record, stated,
[The] authorities have used tactics of harassment, repression, imprisonment and even violence against residents and activists
And it’s not just neighbourhoods that the authorities are trying to sanitise. There is even a ‘Capital Spiritual Civilisation Construction Commission’, who are policing the behaviour and dress of Beijing residents. No one is to give the visiting foreigners the slightest additional opportunity to criticise China.
But the ‘cleaning-up’ goes deeper, according to Amnesty International.
“We’ve seen a deterioration in human rights because of the Olympics,” said Roseann Rife, a deputy programme director for Amnesty International.
“Specifically we’ve seen crackdowns on domestic human rights activists, media censorship and increased use of re-education through labour as a means to clean up Beijing and surrounding areas.”
With guests just about to arrive, the Chinese government is apparently making really sure that skeletons in the cupboard are at least locked away.
The pollution that Beijing promised to tackle is still very much there. After some degree of success (large industrial zones have been closed down for an unprecedented two-month summer holiday, cars are only being allowed into the city one day out of two based on odd- and even-numbered licence plates, while a million of the city’s 3.3 million cars were “taken off the roads” from July 20) air quality is still said to be nowhere near WHO safety standards.
Last year, the IOC’s chief Jacques Rogge warned that if air quality didn’t improve, it could lead to “the suspension of some events, particularly endurance races such as the marathon.” Perhaps these words will be backed up with some spine, or maybe those over-zealous safety limits can be conveniently changed.
The question of visitors to the games being able to access the internet hit the headlines this week. Despite assurances that journalists at the games would be given unrestricted internet access, China went back on this promise too. What did the IOC do in retaliation to this brazenly broken promise? An IOC spokesman said that the IOC “regretted the limitations” but that they had negotiated with the Chinese that “some sensitive sites would be blocked on the basis they were not considered Games related.” So if the Chinese communist party decide that you don’t need it, then it’s OK to prevent your access to it. Well done, IOC, for taking such a tough stance against bullying.
Sun Weide, the chief spokesman for the Beijing Olympics organizing committee said “It has been our policy to provide the media with convenient and sufficient access to the Internet. I believe our policy will not affect reporters’ coverage of the Olympic games.”
Other sites were also unavailable to journalists, he said, without specifying which ones.
Sufficient, not complete. Meaning that you’re not welcome here, but we’ll put up with you for just about as long as we have to, then we’ll escort you to the exit. Once we’ve checked your bag.
Another concern that the Chinese government has is that of terror. Recent months have seen violence in Tibet between Tibetans and Han Chinese, in rural part of China between farming communities and authorities, and in the last few days in north-western Xinjiang where Uighur separatists, who hope to establish an independent Islamic state of ‘East Turkistan’, killed 16 policemen.
With the world’s eyes on Beijing, the government is concerned that opportunist terrorists will think now is their time. In response, Beijing is taking its security very seriously with “the deployment of 110,000 security personnel,”
Surface to air missiles have been placed around the Olympic “bird’s nest” stadium, and from 2pm on Friday – six hours before the opening ceremony is due to start – airports around Beijing will be in lock-down. The army has been instructed to shoot down anything that moves in the five designated air zones above the city.
Of course, this isn’t just about securing oneself in the face of a terrorist threat. It’s also a very handy opportunity to show those who you feel haven’t been showing you the respect you feel you deserve that you mean to take a place at the top table whether invited or not. China’s not asking for acceptance. It’s telling you outright to get used to it.
But Chinese President Hu Jintao has warned against making the Olympic Games political, saying “it would not help solve problems and bridge differences of view.
“Politicizing the Olympics goes against the Olympic spirit and the shared aspirations of people all over the world,” he said.
Which I guess means shut up and enjoy the show.