Had the National Population and Family Planning Commission not rescinded its invitation, I would be in China right now as the Olympics opened. But the Commission, which is responsible for enforcing the one-child policy, belatedly realized that I was a well-known critic of that policy–and of that country’s human rights record in general– and barred the door.
I confess to not having been overly disappointed by their decision. Despite the fact that I read, write and speak Chinese, it would have been nearly impossible for me to do anything else in Beijing but the one thing that I will not do: attend the Games. For reasons that I will explain below, I have decided to boycott them from start to finish.
It is true that I would have welcomed the opportunity to visit my friends in Beijing, but I wouldn’t have felt free to do this for fear of getting them in trouble. China’s capital, you see, has been turned into an armed camp. Plainclothes policemen are everywhere and, even if I managed to avoid human spies, the more than 30,000 surveillance cameras that have been have been installed throughout the city in recent months would have tracked my movements anyway. For some time now, I haven’t even dared to communicate with my friends by e-mail or phone, because I knew that all communications into or out of China are being monitored.
As far as China’s pro-democracy activists are concerned, it wouldn’t be possible for me to see them either. They, along with anyone else who has been labeled a “troublemaker,” have been hustled off to the countryside, or placed under house arrest. Their homes are guarded by phalanxes of police. Their mail, phone and computers are monitored.
What if I simply took a stroll in the streets of Beijing and struck up conversations with passersby? You may be surprised to learn that even this could be risky for those I happened to speak with. Plainclothes policemen would be tailing me, attempting to listen in to anything I said. If my newfound friends were so careless as to utter any criticism of the government, they might well find themselves charged with “inciting subversion of state power” or “illegal possession of state secrets,” or some similar charge. As hard as it may be for Americans to understand, such thuggish behavior is par for the course in the People’s Republic.
By now, everyone has seen pictures of the beautiful new stadiums that have been built by the Beijing regime. What you won’t see are the military camps on the outskirts of Beijing, where units of the People’s Armed Police, armed with tanks and armored personnel carriers, have been placed on high alert. But local observers say that the police and military presence is even greater than that of June 1989, when deadly force was used to put down the pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square and a massacre ensued.
The regime is so paranoid of disturbances during the Olympics that it has placed the entire military of the country on stand-by. Not only army, but air force and even naval units, are standing by to put down demonstrations (although it is unclear what role the air force and naval units could play in putting down peaceful demonstrations).
Visitors to Beijing this time around will in all likelihood be spared the sight of tanks crushing unarmed demonstrators and soldiers machine gunning protestors, but they should know that, behind the clean and orderly façade, human rights abuses still proliferate. The streets of Beijing are quiet, but it is the “quiet” of the graveyard. Not only has the Chinese government broken its promises to improve its human rights record prior to the 2008 Olympics, the Games themselves have led this oppressive regime to crack down on dissent on a scale unprecedented since the brutal Cultural Revolution. The Beijing Olympics are becoming a byword for Beijing’s brutality.
The Chinese government holds thousands of political prisoners without charge or trial. These include democracy activists, lawyers, human rights defenders, religious leaders, journalists, trade unionists, Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghurs, ”unofficial” church members, members of the “underground” Catholic Church, women pregnant with “illegal” children, Falun Gong practitioners, and political dissidents. Name a human right, and Beijing is violating it, probably on a massive scale. We at PRI have held a series of conferences on the human rights situation in China. Our chief problem is finding enough time for all the various groups whose rights have been violated to tell their story.
Overseas, the Chinese government supports regimes that, like it, have no respect for human dignity. Name a brutal dictaorship, and the odds are that its chief international patron and arms supplier is the People’s Republic of China. Beijing has long-standing economic and military ties with Sudan and continues to strengthen these ties, including providing military assistance, in spite of the ongoing human rights abuses amounting to genocide in Darfur. It has close ties to the Burmese military junta, which continues to brutalize its Christian minority, hold Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung Saan Suu Kyi under house arrest, and mistreat the recent typhoon victims.
Beijing even supports North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, providing the food and fuel that helps him to remain in power. Because of the ongoing famine and political repression in that country, tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled across the border to China in recent years. The Chinese authorities surely know that these pitiful refugees face arbitrary detention, torture, and even summary execution if they are caught. They arrest and deport them back to North Korea anyway.
Tragically, the decision to allow Beijing to host the 2008 Olympics has led directly to more human rights abuses. An estimated two million residents of Beijing have been rendered homeless, their homes destroyed to make way for various Olympic venues. As the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) has reported, the Beijing regime has locked up a large number of “Olympics Prisoners.” The cases of Yang Chunlin and Ye Guozhu are typical. Ye Guozhu was scheduled to be released on July 26 after four years in prison for attempting to organize a protest against forced evictions due to the Games. Only a few days prior to his release, however, the authorities accused him of “gathering crowds to disturb the order of public places,” and extended his sentence indefinitely. (The authorities did not deign to explain how he could have “gathered crowds” while in prison.) Yuan Xianchen, a legal activist from Heilongjiang Province who helped Yang Chunlin to collect signatures endorsing the open letter, “We Want Human Rights, Not the Olympics” was arrested on May 28 on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”.
The PRC regularly denies rights that peoples in other countries take for granted, namely, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association, but the controls have tightened even further in the run up to the Games. The censorship of the Internet in particular has reached dimensions of paranoia rarely seen even in one-party dictatorships. Overseas websites that are considered to be “politically sensitive” or “anti-China” are blocked, including those of CHRD mentioned above. Popular internet forums have been shut down, or even more heavily censored.
It is for these reasons that I, along with many others, will be boycotting the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Like the XI Olympiad held in Adolf Hitler’s Berlin in 1936, I believe that the Beijing Olympics contravenes both the history and the spirit of the Olympic Games. I have signed the petition at http://www.beijingboycottcoalition.com/ pledging not to view broadcasts of the events, or will patronize any of the Games sponsors.
Instead, I will be praying for the people of China, and particularly for our brothers and sisters in the persecuted Underground Catholic Church.