President George W. Bush ’68 must love sports. After all, he was formerly a partial owner of the Texas Rangers; and since receiving a personal invitation from Chinese President Hu Jintao to attend the Olympic Games this summer in Beijing, his interest to do so has seemed unwavering, despite the fact that at least 15 House members have actively urged him to reconsider.
“It would be clearly inappropriate for [President Bush] to attend the Olympic Games in China, given the increasingly repressive nature of that country’s government,” said the members’ organizer Rep. Mazine Waters, the Associated Press reported.
China has continued to shelter the Sudanese government during its open slaughter of Darfur. The Chinese government denounces targeted economic sanctions on Sudan, supports the country financially by purchasing its oil and supplying the majority of its weapons, and waters down, shelves or vetoes any U.N. resolution targeting the genocidal regime. At the same time, China hypocritically trumpets the slogan “One World, One Dream” apropos the Olympics.
On the other side of the globe, President Bush was one of the first major world leaders to take a public stance against Sudan, calling the violence “genocide” in 2004. He also brokered the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Southern Sudan in another effort to secure peace in the region.
Now, the man who twice led the charge towards peace and stability in Darfur may sit ringside the primary enabler of that violence. By attending the Games, Bush will inadvertently signal support for the Chinese government and a belief in the disingenuous assertions that these Olympics represent a respect for humanity and optimism.
By clarifying that his attendance of the Olympics does not indicate support or approval of actions taken by the Chinese government, Bush has the opportunity to reconcile his position on Darfur with his desire to see the Beijing Games. A public statement condemning China’s role in the genocide and promising that Darfur will remain on his agenda would send a clear message to President Hu, Darfuris and the international community that when Bush comes to China in August, medals will not matter more than human rights.
The question then becomes whether or not such a statement of condemnation would influence US-China relations. Surely, Hu will not be thrilled at Bush’s public recognition of the Chinese link between violence in Darfur to the Games. Bush, however, should not cap the discussion of China’s human-rights record to polite, private urgings.
While former suggestions from foreign powers to China that it take a new position on human rights have barely affected Chinese policy, the government of China has responded to pressures regarding the Olympics Games. When Steven Spielberg, artistic advisor for the Olympics, confronted President Hu about Darfur and ultimately resigned his position, the Chinese government publicly responded; after his letter, a special envoy was dispatched to Darfur and after his resignation, the government issued various defensive statements.
Thus far, these actions show no enthusiasm for ending the violence in Darfur, only a desire to get the world off its back. Another protest — from our president — could put the pressure right back where it needs to be. Connecting the Olympics, a symbol of national pride and global unity, to the Darfur genocide seems to be the only way to call the attention of the Chinese government.
Many have resisted the movement to pressure China, arguing that sports and politics should remain separate.
But the Olympics should embody the international unity proclaimed in its slogan. How can the Games accomplish a goal of unification when a segment of the international community is being systematically eliminated? Linking the Darfur genocide to the Beijing Olympics, which adequately taints China’s reputation in an arena that elicits incredible national pride, has inspired the only changes — though, so far, they have been modest.
Bush himself will not likely make a statement clarifying his position on the Genocide Olympics without public pressure. We can encourage him to continue his strong stance against genocide by calling for him to explain why he will attend the Olympics when doing so would symbolize such hypocrisy.
As American citizens, we can and should record our opinion and questions on the White House comment line and let our voices be heard.
Caitlin Clements is a sophomore in Calhoun College. She is co-cordinator of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND).