why i won't watch the beijing olympics

beijing 2008

I've been meaning to post about China and the Olympics for a long time. Now China's current military crackdown in Tibet has given me an excuse to focus on it.

I clearly remember learning that Beijing would host the 2008 Olympics, how stunned, and disgusted, and betrayed I felt. With that, any lingering illusions I had about the International Olympics Committee were stripped away. Giving the Olympics to China was the final admission of how political, corrupt, and morally bankrupt the IOC is.

In 1980, the United States and Canada boycotted the Moscow Olympics because of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Japan, West Germany, China, and a few other countries joined the boycott; other countries made protests statements but didn't boycott.

A boycott of the Olympics because of an invasion. Seems kind of quaint now, doesn't it?

No one wants to piss off China. No wants to risk losing that powerful trading partner and access to all those cheap goods. Doing business with China means "staying competitive" - that is, ignoring the labour, safety, consumer and environmental standards your own country has built. And buying "Made In China" lets us all extend our standard of living. We buy artificially cheap products, and never count the true costs.

It's easy to sell cheap when you run sweatshops, dump untreated contaminants into the environment, have zero safety or health standards, and zero quality control.

So the western world, with its massive corporate and consumer power, doesn't just stay out of China's way. We reward China with the Olympics.

* * * *

No one blog post can detail China's many abuses. But although I can't do justice to the subject, I should at least give it a shot. So here, in no particular order, is why I won't be watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

  • Tibet: China's continuing occupation of this sovereign, peaceful nation.

  • Darfur: China is Sudan's largest trading partner and the main foreign investor in its oil industry. Most Western oil companies, under pressure from human rights organizations, have withdrawn from Sudan. And although we know that economic isolation and divestment can have a very powerful, positive effect (think South Africa), China continues to do business with Sudan, enabling slavery and genocide.

  • China: The list of China's abuses of its own people is a long and shameful one.

    -- China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the capital-punishment countries combined and doubled. While China has a much larger population than those other countries, its rate of execution is still disproportionate. China has more capital crimes, and is believed to have more hidden executions and political executions, than any other country in the world.

    -- China jails (and also executes) thousands of activists, political dissidents, journalists, and ordinary citizens who attempt free expression. Reporters Without Borders is a good source for civil liberty and human rights abuses in China, as is Human Rights Watch.

    -- China's labour laws are a sad joke. Factory conditions sound like something out of Dickens or Upton Sinclair.

    -- China pollutes water, air and soil with impunity, poisoning and sickening its citizens for generations to come.

    This is the country that has been rewarded with the 2008 Olympic Games.

    Some people believe that the international attention brought by the Olympics can be used to leverage change. Do they really believe that? Or they don't care, and only use this as lip service?

    In the entire history of the universe, has change ever been made, anywhere, by giving a reward before anything has changed?

    If you want to teach your child, or your dog, or your partner, that they must change their behaviour, do you hand them a huge reward, then ask them to change?

    It's pretty basic. It's Psychology 101. If the IOC wanted to use the Olympics to effect change, it would have told China: clean up your act, and we'll consider you for future games. Here's a list of specific changes we want to see. You might have gotten the Olympics, but we won't reward you as long as you continue these crimes.

    * * * *

    An effective consumer boycott of Chinese products is virtually impossible. What's more - as we learned in the pet food scandal - many products labelled Fabriqué au Canada and Made In USA only get their final assembly or processing in those countries, with parts and materials that originate in China. Unless China is forced to deal humanely and fairly with workers, the environment and consumers - or unless North American businesses are forced into a trade embargo - or both - Chinese products will always undersell those made in North America. And we want to buy everything as cheaply as possible, so we can buy, buy, buy, more, more, more.

    There are scattered calls to boycott the Beijing Olympics but they don't get any traction. Not because it's too late. Because no one wants to piss off China.

    I'm just having my own boycott. I usually glue myself to the Olympics. This year my TV will stay off.

    Photo from Reporters Without Borders, thanks to James.

    David Cho said...

    Very well done. Why are we doing business with this country is beyond me.

    As a side note, does anyone else find it interesting that three of the last four Communist holdouts (China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba) are the ones the United States went to war with?

    Most people don't realize that the US went to war with China. It happened during the Korean war.

    Werner Patels said...

    I hadn't had a chance to blog about this yet, but count me in: I will not be watching a single second of the Games in Beijing.

    L-girl said...

    Thanks, David.

    As a side note, does anyone else find it interesting that three of the last four Communist holdouts (China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba) are the ones the United States went to war with?

    Hmmm. Coincidence or what's the connection?

    I guess CIA overthrows of communist governments and unofficials wars don't count. Half the time the govt wasn't even communist, just leftist.


    Thanks, Werner Patels. I think a lot of people will take the same route.

    Mara Clarke said...

    One of my colleagues was talking about the news coverage of the current China situation. It used to be no one would let a Chinese official get away with saying "The violence was caused by the Dali Lama" (paraphrased). Is the new motto "Money talks, human rights and corruption walk?"