Very soon, an international committee, meeting in Moscow, will decide which country will have the prestige of hosting the summer Olympic Games in 2008. Right now, in Congress, there is a resolution introduced by Tom Lantos and Christopher Cox opposing the selection of that nation of prison camps for peaceful dissenters.
Their resolution reminds their colleagues and the rest of us that when Adolf Hitler presided over the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936, the New York Times reported: “Olympics leave glow of pride in the Reich … A piece of perfect German pageantry … Visitors gain a good impression.”
As part of this Olympics bid to distract attention from the Chinese government’s remorseless persecution of people of religious faith and other prisoners of conscience in its gulags, the China National Tourist Administration paid for a splendidly illustrated 12-page insert in the June 10 New York Times Sunday magazine. The ad was titled “Discover China in the New Century … an ever-evolving new China.”
This lavish ad did not, of course, include a May 25 letter to China’s ambassador to the United States from Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. As reported by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Mr. Law cited the Chinese government’s “marked increase in the number and severity of actions against many of our fellow Catholics, as well as against other religious believers. We have in the past registered our concerns with your embassy, unfortunately, without the courtesy of a reply.”
The Embassy of China has sent a letter to members of Congress attacking the Lantos-Cox resolution on the 2008 Olympics. The letter charges that “any attempt to deny China’s right to host the Games is a challenge to the universal principle of human rights.”
Would that George Orwell were alive to savor this peerless piece of shameless hypocrisy!
Consider this illustration of China’s devotion to human rights: Free Church for China reports that in April alone, five priests were arrested and imprisoned in laogai (gulags), along with 13 underground Catholic laypersons. And 79-year-old Bishop Shi Enxiang was arrested on Good Friday. The charge against all of them: refusing obeisance to the state-controlled church.
And as readers of the New York Times Sunday magazine section were treated to photographs of pandas and luxury hotels beckoning to them from “the new China,” there was a message they did not see from Christians worshiping in perilous secrecy: “The persecution here has never ceased. We need the U.S. efforts to continue to investigate and let the outside world know the real situation in China.”
Amnesty International reports that “torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience of all kinds continues to be widespread” in China.
A desperate cry for attention also comes from Chinese-occupied Tibet. An exiled Tibetan Buddhist monk, imprisoned for 24 years because he would not renounce the Dalai Lama, says, “Life in Tibet is a total disaster, and we are in need of help.”
In considering the Lantos-Cox resolution against having the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Congress should also keep in mind the suffering of the more than 10,000 Falun Gong members now in Chinese prisons. According to a New York Times report on April 26, more than 100 of them have died in custody.
As of this writing, the House International Relations Committee has solidly approved the Lantos-Cox resolution by a 26-8 vote. But the House Republican leadership has taken no action on it so far, and it has not scheduled a debate on the floor. Are the Republican leaders there afraid of so offending China that profits from trade will be jeopardized while Christians and others are being tortured?
The International Olympics Committee will make its decision on July 13. If the Olympic Games are held in Beijing, will we send our athletes? And if one of them breaks stride to pray publicly for imprisoned Chinese people of faith, will he or she be dropped from the team, just as Jewish athletes were cut from the American Olympic team in Berlin in 1936 as Hitler watched?
It is not too late, in any case, for President George W. Bush to look into his heart and his faith and imagine the Olympic Games taking place while thousands and thousands of prisoners suffer and are beaten in their cells not only Christian prisoners, but also those imprisoned simply for advocating democracy.
We shamed ourselves in 1936. Do we want to leave “a glow of pride” among the commanders of the prison labor camps in China in 2008?