Chinese leaders regard the Games as a symbolic endorsement of their country's growing global clout but do not relish the intensified scrutiny of their domestic and international record that go with the games.
International activists have mounted a campaign to spotlight the communist regime's record and called for a boycott of the Olympics if Beijing does not live up to its promises for an improved human rights climate and total press freedom before and during the Games.
In bidding for the Games in 2001, China pledged to the International Olympic Committee members that the Olympics would serve to enhance the rights situation, but many monitoring groups claim Beijing has failed to keep its promises.
Reporters Without Borders says about 80 journalists and Internet users are currently imprisoned in China and censorship has intensified as the Games are drawing nearer. Rights activists say that preparations for the Olympics have in fact led to an intensified crackdown on dissent and human rights defenders.
Chinese security officials have warned against any protests in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics. Liu Shaowu, deputy head of security for the Games has vowed to punish anyone who takes part in a political, religious or ethnic demonstration "in any form" at an Olympic site during the Games.
"This is our commitment to make sure we have a harmonious Olympics," Liu told the press during the unveiling of a new indoor stadium in late November.
"The whole world is watching China in the run up to the Games, and heavy-handed tactics to suppress independent voices will create precisely the image Beijing does not want," Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement. "China runs a serious risk of tarnishing its reputation and the legacy of the Games."
The China pressure campaign has aligned global rights lobbies like HRW and Amnesty International, as well as journalism advocacy organizations, along with Hollywood celebrities and Nobel Prize winners. The spotlight is as much on China's internal human rights record as on its increasing clout abroad.
A host of prominent figures urged China's President Hu Jintao this week to use Beijing's special influence with Sudan and pressure it to end atrocities in Darfur. China holds sway over Khartoum because it buys two-thirds of the country's oil exports and provides military and diplomatic support for the regime.
"As the primary economic, military and political partner of the government of Sudan, and as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China has both the opportunity and the responsibility to contribute to a just peace in Darfur," they said in a joint letter.
Among the 25 signatories, who included Olympic athletes, writers and actors from around the world, were also South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi -- both Nobel Peace Prize winners.
The letter comes at a time of renewed fighting in the ravaged western region of Darfur. Thousands of refugees have fled to neighboring Chad escaping attacks by Arab militiamen, joining the 240,000 Sudanese refugees already there and posing more challenges to an already overstretched aid operation.
The conflict engulfing the region first came to the world's attention in 2003 when the Arab-dominated government of Sudan unleashed Arab tribal militias on non-Arab rebel groups in Darfur. Darfur rebels seek greater autonomy and a larger share of Sudan's wealth. In all at least 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur, according to humanitarian agencies and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes.
In recent months the crisis has spilled over to Sudan's western neighbor Chad. Sudan is accused of backing rebels who sought to overthrow President Idriss Deby of Chad last week because of the presence of huge numbers of Sudanese refugees on Chadian territory.
China is Sudan's primary backer and has growing oil and commercial interests in Chad but Beijing has shied away from interfering to restore peace in the region. Chinese diplomats and experts blame poverty and the lack of economic growth for the strife. They have repeatedly warned against politicising the Olympics.
"Those who want to use the Olympics to discredit China, and those who think the Olympics will promote China to change in the way they hope, are doomed to be disappointed," said an editorial in the People's Daily, the communist party's flagship earlier this month.
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Albion Monitor February
15, 2008 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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