The 2008 Summer Olympics will be held in Beijing in six months. China has spent tens of billions of dollars in creating new venues and infrastructure to house the sporting events and the thousands of foreign visitors that will stream into the country to view the games.
In the midst of trying to construct the biggest show on earth, China is on the receiving end of criticism over its position in Darfur. Slowly and sadly, the summer games in Beijing, once titled “One World, One Dream,” are becoming branded as “The Genocide Olympics.”
The unending stream of condemnation rests on China’s injurious relationship with the Sudanese government. As one of the biggest buyers of Sudan’s oil and the primary supplier of weapons and arms for the government, China is in the most valuable position to advise the Sudanese to end the unsettling violence in the Darfur region. However, even with pressure from other super-countries, including the United States, and the United Nations as well, China is forgoing recommendations and letting violence continue. Arguing that foreign diplomats are using the games as leverage for politics, China refuses to budge.
Rather than change its positioning, China has done little about foreign protest except to plan for more. The government has decided to restrict media access to Tiananmen Square in preparation for possible street protests from foreigners. Additionally, Olympic officials in Beijing are worried about protests during the torch relay and welcoming ceremony and are safeguarding themselves in advance.
There are many countries that need to adjust their ways in respect to Darfur but China is decisive in making the first big impact in the troubled region. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times outlined the potential peace process made through a change in Chinese positioning: If Chinese officials suspended the supply of weapons to Sudan until a peace agreement is arranged, then the Sudanese government would be forced to make negotiations with rebels. Moreover, the relinquishment of a political cover from China will compel the Sudanese government to allow the entrance of more humanitarian aid envoys. With the Chinese lock to Darfur broken, the U.N. and diplomats from other countries can provide the support necessary to turn around the region.
Having emerged as a world power, China deserves to host the games, but attempting to draw attention away from its unforgiving inaction in Darfur will only help to lose more supporters. As the conflict becomes more publicized, global organizations and citizens worldwide are speaking out against the games. The short list of celebrities on the long list of protesters includes Prince Charles of the United Kingdom, Steven Spielberg, who quit as artistic director of the games because of the dispute, and many former Olympic medalists. Current athletes, due to the Olympic Charter, are asked to not give their opinions on the hosting nation.
As frightened Chinese officials begin to crack from the highlighted opposition of well-known figures, we can see a mode of operation for ourselves. Through our own protest of China’s big homecoming, the government will ease on its stance and begin negotiations. If more athletes, representatives and celebrities voice their concern as well, the mounting pressure could convince the government to shift its position entirely with Sudan. More attention on guilt and less on gold and glory could make this an Olympics where the real competition is between the diplomats, not the athletes.
The lights in Beijing’s stadiums and arenas will seem dimmer this year. With the shadow of controversy looming over the summer games, expect less glory, more protest and, hopefully, the introduction of a new relationship between China and Sudan.
Taylor Moore is a journalism senior and a Mustang Daily current events columnist.