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BBC Sport Olympics

Last Updated: Friday, 15 February 2008, 11:14 GMT
Beijing bulletin
By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Chinese police outside the Olympic Stadium in Beijing
Chinese police outside the Olympic Stadium in Beijing

It's been a bad week for China's international reputation.

First, there was a row about the attempt by British Olympic officials to gag UK athletes from making political statements at the Games.

And then filmmaker Steven Spielberg resigned from his role as an artistic director for the opening and closing ceremonies at the Games.

Over the last couple of years, China has worked hard to separate politics from the Olympics - mainly to avoid this kind of mess.

It will be worried that the issue is suddenly on everyone's lips.

But what is China like? Does it deserve all the bad publicity?

The simple, although somewhat unsatisfactory, answer is "yes and no".

China's political system certainly gives protesters plenty of ammunition; there are many issues that could spark off demonstrations.

Beijing maintains tight control over Tibet and Xinjiang, regions that many people think should be independent of Beijing.

And the country's one-party, authoritarian political system brooks no dissent. People who speak out usually find themselves in prison.

Chinese people think the West is obsessed with human rights

I recently watched four burly policemen manhandle a tiny woman and her child, who she was holding in her arms at the time.

Her crime? She's married to a man who used to publicise injustices against ordinary people across China. He's now in prison.

Human rights groups regularly document these issues, but they mostly fail to get the rest of the world interested.

Foreign countries are so desperate to trade with China that they rarely make a big fuss about this kind of thing.

On his recent trip to China, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown seemed mostly concerned about attracting Chinese investment to the UK.


Then there is China's overseas record, particularly in Africa.

Many accuse Beijing of trading with whoever it can, mainly to get its hands on vital natural resources needed to fuel China's booming economy.

This relationship includes selling weapons to Sudan - weapons that are perhaps being used in Darfur.

In response, Beijing says it is working hard to resolve the Darfur issue.

It has appointed a special envoy for Darfur and has sent peacekeepers to the region. It spends millions on humanitarian projects there.

And officials make a good point when they say Western nations often trade with unsavoury regimes in order to turn a profit.

Unfortunately for Beijing, it can't control the rest of the world as it does its own country

There is also an answer for criticism about China's internal situation: Chinese people think the West is obsessed with human rights.

Most people live happy, normal lives, without any interference from the police - and they don't understand why journalists don't write about that more often.

Foreign visitors might wonder about that too.

When they come for the Olympics they'll find a country that looks very little like a police state - police states aren't supposed to have Sizzler steak restaurants.

So is it right to link politics with sport, and use the Olympics to push a particular agenda?

China's government doesn't think so but, unfortunately for Beijing, it can't control the rest of the world as it does its own country.

It will have to get used to the fact that the best laid plans sometimes get spoiled, and the Olympics might be remembered for something more than the sport.

Michael Bristow will be filing fortnightly columns from Beijing in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics in August.

Countdown: loading...

Jowell supports pressure on China
14 Feb 08 |  UK Politics
China 'regrets' Spielberg action
14 Feb 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Spielberg in Darfur snub to China
13 Feb 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Beijing bulletin
07 Jan 08 |  Olympics & Olympic sport


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