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  • China Denies Olympic Link to Human Rights Announcement


    Though the Chinese government denies any link, groups such as Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International say the talks are just a public relations maneuver. (Getty Images) 
    (ATR) A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the United States tells Around the Rings there is no direct link between the Chinese government's announcement it is ready to resume human rights dialogue with the U.S. and the upcoming Olympics in Beijing. Human rights groups disagree.

    Chinese foreign minister Jiechi Yang announced Feb. 26 that his country is ready to restart a regular series of human rights dialogs with the U.S. based on principles of "mutual respect, equality and non-interference."

    His comments came at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Beijing.

    Neither Yang nor Rice mentioned the Games, but media soon drew a link between the brightening spotlight on China ahead of the Olympics and the timing of the announcement.

    A spokesman from the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. denied any link.

    Baodong Wang says the two sides have engaged in continuous talks on human rights for many years, but not in a set form.

    "The resumption of dialogues has no special link with Beijing hosting the Olympics. Now is just the appropriate time to resume, and the agreement is a direct result of the talks between the two officials," Wang tells ATR.

    Wang says China has made huge strides since instating an opening and reforming policy thirty years ago.

    "There is lots of misunderstanding in the United States over human rights in China. Speaking as an average Chinese citizen, the government attaches great importance to human rights, and they have been improving every day. It was going on before the Olympics, and it will continue after Beijing hosts the Olympics," he continues.

    Foreign Ministry spokesman Jianchao Liu in Beijing reiterated today that the Olympics should not be politicized or subject to boycott.

    Yet several human rights groups do see an Olympic link to Yang's announcement.

    "I think it has a link because China has to prove these days that they are committed," Vincent Brossel, head of Reporters Without Borders' Asia-Pacific desk, tells Around the Rings.

    "Maybe it is a way to cool down the critics," he says.

    Since 2007, RWB has run an Olympics-themed campaign to highlight restrictions on the media in China.

    Brossel cautions that dialog may be simply a way for China to appear committed without making a commitment.

    "It is a good PR operation," he continues.

    "It is a victory if there is any result from the dialog."

    The Asia and Pacific advocacy director at Amnesty International says China is feeling a "newfound" focus on its human rights
    China and the U.S. have not had a regular human rights dialog since 2004. (Getty Images) 
    record that is due to the Olympics.

    AI is taking this as a good opportunity to improve human rights in China, says T. Kumar.

    He notes that it will be difficult for U.S. president George Bush to go to the Games when there are human rights abuses going on in China.

    The commencement of a new dialog between China and the U.S. may make an Olympic visit easier for Bush.

    China can better prove its sincerity with actions – such as releasing political prisoners, setting benchmarks and making commitments – than with words, Kumar says.

    Human Rights in China, a New York-based advocacy group, agrees that actions, benchmarks and transparency will prove China's opinion on human rights.

    "China has a PR image issue at the moment," HRIC executive director Sharon Hom tells ATR.

    The country has to balance an international image of openness with a domestic message of 'no criticism', says Hom.

    Each month, the group's Games-themed campaign spotlights one person imprisoned by the Chinese authorities for what HRIC says is exercise of civil rights.

    China's agreement only to talk is not good enough, Hom says.

    It is the job of non-governmental organizations to hold China's "feet to the fire" before, during and after the Games, she says.

    John Li – the head of a coalition of Southern California activists that include Reporters without Borders, Amnesty International, Tibet rights activists, and Falun Gong – doubts China's sincerity as well.

    "They can easily show their good will by releasing all the prisoners of conscience including tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners from their labor camps," he tells ATR.

    Li's coalition ran a highly visible, though ultimately unsuccessful campaign to hold a human-rights rally alongside the traditional Jan. 1 Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. The parade featured an entry from Beijing 2008.

    "I believe that our campaigns during the Rose Parade have caught attention in Beijing and other countries," Li says.

    Written by Eric Connelly and Maggie Lee

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