To win the right to host the Games, Beijing promised to expand press freedoms for foreign reporters and implied that opening China to the world would help expand human rights more generally.
We will never know whether China’s leaders intended to keep their word. What we do know is that the International Olympic Committee, corporate sponsors and governments around the world should have held China to its word. They have not, and China has read their silence as complicity.
China has jailed critics, denied visas and threatened news organizations that negative coverage could jeopardize their chance to cover the Games.
According to Human Rights Watch, at least 10 foreign journalists, including Newsweek’s China bureau chief, have received anonymous death threats since they reported on the violence in Tibet. Government authorities have also used police intimidation and bribery to try to silence parents demanding an accounting for the reprehensibly shoddy construction that caused schools to crumble, killing thousands of children in the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan Province. Thousands of people have been evicted from their homes in Beijing as the city cleans up for international TV crews.
Corporate sponsors for the Games seem determined to look the other way. Most world leaders, including President Bush, also have been too silent. We accept Mr. Bush’s decision to attend the opening ceremonies, but we see no sign that he got anything for it .
Mr. Bush has correctly denounced the genocide in Darfur and is pressing for international sanctions on Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe over brutally stealing last month’s presidential election. China, however, continues to enable both Mr. Mugabe and Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Just last week, Beijing faulted the world court prosecutor for bringing charges of genocide against Mr. Bashir for his role in Darfur’s many horrors, and it vetoed an American-backed United Nations Security Council resolution to put sanctions on Mr. Mugabe and his henchmen.
Apart from China, no one deserves criticism more than the International Olympic Committee, the so-called guardian of the Olympic movement, which has indulged Beijing at every turn.
The committee still has time to put in place minimal protections — like a 24-hour hot line for journalists to report violations of media freedoms. Even with all of the intimidation, human rights advocates (and maybe some athletes) will likely try to use the Games to protest China’s repression. Beijing needs to know that the world will be watching how it handles that bit of reality TV.