Olympics Provide Backdrop for Games of State

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Although there has been global condemnation of Olympics host nation China for its recent crackdown in Tibet and neighboring provinces, Washington is signaling that it will not use the Games to take China to task for human rights violations. The primary reason: China's newfound economic power.


Shouting Tibetan monks interrupted a tour of journalists in Lhasa today, a tour organized by China. The monks accused Beijing of lying when it blames them for recent unrest. Violence in Lhasa has spurred talk of Olympic boycotts, but the international community is treading very cautiously.

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says that highlights China's financial strength.

DANIEL SCHORR: The Olympic Games are supposed to be above politics, but they are generally rich in political symbolism. Now China, awash in human rights violations and a vicious crackdown in Tibet, bids the world to come celebrate its booming economy at the Beijing games next August.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he may boycott the opening ceremonies, and European governments are reportedly considering sending a fact-finding mission to Beijing. The problem is still communist China's new position as an economic powerhouse.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was frank to say to the French newspaper Liberation: We are constrained by a certain number of economic interests in order not to boost unemployment.

And the United States, with a heavy economic stake in China, seems equally timorous about facing up to China on human rights. President Bush yesterday had what the White house called a lengthy phone conversation with Chinese President Hu Jintao, urging restraint in dealing with Tibetan and Chinese dissidents.

The strongest American condemnation of Chinese repression has come from Democrats, like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Dianne Feinstein. The Chinese news agency has responded by accusing the United States of the greatest humanitarian disaster in the modern world - namely, Iraq.

The White House indicates no further action is planned. President Bush officially accepted the Chinese invitation to the games last September. And the White House now says he's going to Beijing for the sports, not to make a political statement.

Unofficial voices condemning China will be heard. The Olympic torch is wending its way from Greece to Beijing. It's due to stop in San Francisco in two weeks. And that's likely to become an occasion for anti-Chinese demonstrations.

Although the State Department lists Chinese human rights record as poor, America apparently cannot afford the luxury of offending a country that holds so much of America's economic fate in its hands.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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