A Few Thoughts on the Olympic Controversy

Give me a minute….Okay thanks, I had to say goodbye to the tree I spent the day hugging. Let me loosen up my Birkenstocks, light my bong, and munch on some granola while I try, through a haze of smoke and a Grateful Dead album keeping me mellow, to respond to those who would attack me for my opinion…

The Olympics were founded on a the concept of striking a balance between competition and cooperation. Terry actually took the time to read the Olympic Charter…and found that this is what it said in article 1

1. Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of
body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a
way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

2. The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man,
with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

(emphasis mine)

nowhere in the first 15 pages (of 105) that I read did I find anything about turning a blind eye to gross Human Rights violations in the name of sport. Nowhere did I find where it said that for the purpose of these Olympics should I overlook the fact that China has been a major force behind the violence in Darfur:

Since 2003 an estimated 400,000 people have died as a result of the campaign of ethnic cleansing being waged against the people of the Darfur region of Sudan by the military regime of General Omar al-Bashir. As many as 2.5 million people have been made into refugees.

The so-called janjaweed militia, armed and trained by the Sudanese army, has waged a campaign of murder, torture, rape and plunder across the Darfur region, often openly assisted by the army and air force. The groups under attack in Darfur — mainly the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massaleit peoples — are Sunni Muslims, just like those running the regime in Khartoum, but they are ethnically African rather than Arab.

Sudan has always been a frontier zone between the Arab and African worlds — the word “Sudan” means “land of the Blacks” in Arabic. Encouraged by pan-Arabist and Islamist ideologists from Egypt and Libya, the Bashir regime, which seized power from an elected government in 1989, has sought to gain popular support from the Arab majority by launching an ethnic war against the African minorities.

Efforts by the African Union (AU) and the UN either to negotiate an end to the conflict or to put an international peacekeeping force into Sudan have been consistently thwarted by the Sudanese regime. Sudan has tried to paint the issue as one of Sudanese sovereignty versus interfering Westerners. It sadly has been supported by its fellow members of the Arab League. It was pleasing last month to see the AU reject Bashir’s bid to be elected as the organization’s president for this year.

Sudan’s main ally, however, has been China, which has consistently blocked efforts at the UN to have Sudan’s actions classed as genocide, to have effective sanctions put in place, or to have a peacekeeping force with the power to protect the people of Darfur put into Sudan.

What does China care about a squalid ethnic conflict in central Africa? Why is one of the world’s greatest powers indifferent to the genocides in Darfur and the effect on China’s reputation of its sponsorship of Khartoum.

The answer is partly economic self-interest, and partly geopolitics. Sudan’s economy has been a disaster for decades, mainly as a result of mismanagement by successive military regimes. In the 1990s it was the world’s largest debtor to the World Bank and the IMF.

But since 2000 major oil discoveries have been made in south and central Sudan. Most major oil companies regard the country as too unstable for investment, but the gap has been filled by China, along with companies from Canada and Malaysia.

Today oil is Sudan’s major export, indeed its only major export, and 80 percent of its oil exports go to China — currently worth more than US$2 billion a year. Beijing is also investing millions in infrastructure, including the pipeline from the oilfields to the tanker terminal at Port Sudan. Chinese laborers are building roads and airfields in oil-producing regions. Some of these airfields are used by the Sudanese air force to launch air attacks on undefended villages in Darfur.

This oil bonanza for Sudan pays not only for vital food imports, but also for new Chinese military hardware including tanks, fighters, helicopters, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

China is Sudan’s largest supplier of arms. It is thus a knowing and willing accomplice in the Bashir regime’s genocide in Darfur.

Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) has just been there, and in the middle of this international humanitarian crisis, and as columnist Sebastian Mallaby wrote in the Washington Post on Feb. 5, Hu called on nations to “respect the sovereignty of Sudan.”

But since the end of the Cold War, the Western view of sovereignty has grown increasingly contingent. If a nation slaughters its civilians (think Rwanda, Kosovo), harbors terrorists (Afghanistan) or refuses to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors (Iraq), it forfeits its right to sovereignty. It may not be invaded, but it certainly can expect to face sanctions.

Part of China’s motivation is an increasingly desperate need for new oil suppliers. Twenty years ago China supplied 90 percent of its own oil. Now, with domestic consumption surging, China can supply only 40 percent of its needs from domestic sources. China invested heavily in Iraq under late president Saddam Hussein, but since the US-led invasion, China can no longer count on favorable treatment. In Russia, Japanese companies with deeper pockets have outbid CNPC for access to new Siberian oilfields. Sudan is the answer to China’s energy prayers — poor, but oil-rich and in need of friends.

China is also playing a deeper game, following a longer term geopolitical strategy. What Beijing’s authoritarian leadership fear more than anything else is the spread of Western democratic ideals — what they call “bourgeois liberalism.”

They saw what happened to their old comrades in the Soviet Union, and they are determined that no such thing will happen to them. To curb the spread of liberal democratic politics, they are forming new geopolitical alliances, giving diplomatic and economic aid to other regimes which also fear democratic ideas.

Today any country that is in trouble at the UN over abuses of human rights can always rely on a Chinese veto in the Security Council. China is the best friend of the military regime in Myanmar — one of the world’s most oppressive regimes — and of President Robert Mugabe’s bankrupt dictatorship in Zimbabwe.

On a broader canvas, a la George Orwell, China is trying to form a “Eurasian bloc” with Russia, Iran and the states of former Soviet Central Asia. It has formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization with these countries, the goal of which is to control much of the world’s energy supplies, and link these to China’s huge population and dynamic economy.


China may have made strides economically in recent years, becoming one of the worlds true economic superpowers. That growth however, has come at the price of sacrificing Human Rights, and basic Human Dignity, the principals that the Olympics were based on. The question is not whether I have the right to protest, or you have the right to support. The question is not who is right, those who support or those who oppose. The question is, how given China’s ugly, and recent history, were they granted the Privilege of hosting the Games in the first place.

Those of us who disagree are not necessarily tie-dye wearing, acid-flashback hippies. We are not all coffee house beatniks, or Birkenstock wearing, bleeding heart liberals.

We don’t all reside in in San Francisco, or P-town MA.

We are your neighbors, your friends, your siblings, your co-workers, and your loved ones.

I guess the question really is, what would the original Birkenstock wearing, human rights defending, protesting, LIBERAL think….What Would Jesus Do.

Be careful the words you choose when attacking us.


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