Calls for Olympics Boycott Follow Tibet Crackdown China's crackdown on protesters in Tibet has left at least 10 people dead, but the International Olympic Committee is asking countries not to boycott the Beijing Olympics, saying a boycott would only hurt athletes. A former ambassador to China and advocate for Human Rights Watch talk about persuading China to change its ways in the run up to the Games.
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Calls for Olympics Boycott Follow Tibet Crackdown

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Calls for Olympics Boycott Follow Tibet Crackdown

Calls for Olympics Boycott Follow Tibet Crackdown

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

China has been sprucing up for the Olympic Games, but this week the government's image of harmony collided with reality. Tibetan demonstrators for independence clashed with Chinese authorities yesterday in Tibet's capital, Lhasa. At least ten people were killed. The crackdown was the latest evidence that China is not honoring pledges it made on human rights when it was awarded the summer games. Still, earlier this week, the State Department dropped China from its list of the world's ten worst human rights violators. James Lilley was U.S. ambassador to China from 1989 to 1991. He does not agree with those who might urge a boycott of the Olympic Games because of China's record on human rights.

Mr. JAMES LILLEY (Former U.S. Ambassador to China): If you look at the Olympics in the past, the 1980 Olympics, let's say, in Moscow, they were - we boycotted them because they invaded Afghanistan, not because of the Soviet Union's human rights record, which was terrible.

ADAMS: Now, when the State Department this week removes China from the list of the ten worst human rights violating countries, do you think that's part of a deal that was made so that the games can proceed?

Mr. LILLEY: I would hope not. There are other countries on that list, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Burma that are much worse human violators than China. And the competition I know is pretty stiff for the top ten, but China has a problem, there's no question about it, but that they're trying to deal with it in a more civilized way than in Sudan or Burma, I think that's the case.

ADAMS: Ambassador Lilley, we're going to bring in Sophie Richardson to this conversation. Ms. Richardson is the Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. She's in Takoma Park, Maryland. What's your feeling about taking China off that 10 worst human rights violation list?

Ms. SOPHIE RICHARDSON (Asia Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch): Well, it's our view that this is not the moment to be reducing the pressure on China over its human rights record, that in the run-up to the Olympics, we have a very particular window in which the Chinese are somewhat susceptible because they're concerned about their image on the world stage and that to back off now is really to waste that opportunity.

ADAMS: Ambassador Lilley, China, as you know, wants to keep human rights separate from all other discussions. Have you found from your experience that they would be much more receptive to - and probably are being receptive to, to private overtures?

Mr. LILLEY: I found - we had our first human rights talks with the China was when I was Beijing in 1990. My own experience is that we got a lot more done for lifting martial law, getting 900 demonstrators at Tiananmen amnesty, getting out the leading dissident, careful deliberate tough-nosed negotiation with them, and I think this has gotten more people out than any other method that you've had.

ADAMS: Turning to Sophie Richardson now from Human Rights Watch, Ms. Richardson, if you were in charge of the human rights situation in China, that's the toughest job of 2008, don't you think?

Ms. RICHARDSON: In a way I actually don't think it is. If it were up to me to decide, the step that I would take, which would help enormously on human rights, but also on you know, minimizing the kind of violent protest or minimizing the kind of corruption that really worries the government is to essentially emancipate the judicial system, which remains under party control, because by giving people a system, you know, an institution where grievances can be resolved peacefully and equitably, you're really going to cut down on the number of people who are going to take their grievances out into the street instead. At the same time, you're also going to make China a much more attractive place to do business, which is incredibly important to the Chinese Communist Party in terms of demonstrating its own legitimacy by delivering on economic growth.

ADAMS: If you had been on the International Olympic Committee back in 2001, would have said, yes, go ahead and give the games to Beijing in 2008?

Ms. RICHARDSON: That's a very good question. You know, I think the IOC's own calculations remain a bit of a mystery, I think, to many of us. You know, and I think China should have been held to the same standards that other host countries would have been or should have been. I think the important activity that the IOC needs to undertake now is to really vigorously hold the Chinese government to the promises it made to the IOC voluntarily in order to get the games. And those included making broad improvements on human rights, and particularly with respect to greater freedom for the press, which we're not really seeing come through.

Mr. LILLEY: I just want to add to this, to what Sophie said, is that the Chinese argument is that this is an evolutionary process, you can't force it, as you Americans tried to do after Tiananmen. The Clinton administration gave Chinese seven conditions of human rights to improve or we would reconsider most favored nation. The Chinese saw the bluff, didn't do it, we backed off. It was public, it was humiliating for them, it didn't work.

And we've now gone back, I think, to more subtle ways of influencing them. And I think that Sophie's quite right. This is a time when they're particularly sensitive, when the Olympics are coming up, when there is a certain leverage you can gain from a minding of this. But the real action I think goes on inside China.

ADAMS: Ms. Richardson, would you like to see a more activist role from the world community with regard to human rights coming up to the Olympic games in Beijing?

Ms. RICHARDSON: Absolutely. I mean I think Ambassador Lilley is quite correct in his implicit defense, or explicit defense, of quiet diplomacy. I mean, after all, that's 90 percent of what goes on at the State Department every day, and indeed it is quite effective. But there is also a role for much more public pressure on China because first of all we know it works. Second of all, it lets people inside China, who are looking for that kind of assistance, know that it's there. And for the countries that say that the promotion of human rights is important in their foreign policy, it needs to be done publicly.

ADAMS: Sophie Richardson is the Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. James Lilley was American's ambassador to China under the first President Bush. Thanks to both of you for talking with us.

Ms. RICHARDSON: Thank you.

Mr. LILLEY: Thank you.

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