- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 24, 2001

Next month, the International Olympic Committee will select the host for the 2008 summer games. The competition is fierce. Although most consider Beijing the front-runner, Toronto and Paris are also strong contenders.

Congress has an opportunity to take a stand on this important decision by supporting a resolution introduced by Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican, and myself opposing China´s bid on human-rights grounds. In March, a key House Committee approved our resolution in a solid 26-8 vote. Since then, however, no action has been taken, and no debate scheduled.

Congress should act now before it is too late and make clear to the IOC that it should not grant China the privilege of hosting the 2008 Games. China´s repressive regime does not deserve the international legitimacy this honor bestows. Its chronic failure to respect basic human rights as documented by the State Department and dramatized in the recent Hainan plane incident violates the spirit of the games and should disqualify Beijing from consideration.

The Olympics are first and foremost about sports athletes from around the world uniting in their love of the game and their commitment to free and fair competition. But human rights are also central to the Olympic ideal. The Olympic charter makes clear that "Olympism" includes "respect for universal fundamental ethical principles." As the annual Human Rights Report released by the State Department documents, China´s government has shown zero respect for the fundamental principle of human rights. It is unworthy to host the Olympics.

According to the report, just when you thought China´s human rights situation could not get any worse, it has.

During the past year, the Chinese government´s record "worsened" as it committed "numerous serious abuses," from raiding home churches, to jailing internet entrepreneurs, to silencing democratic activists, to cracking down on the Falun Gong. Just last month, Chinese authorities jailed three Chinese-American scholars, and left the 5-year-old son of one victim to fend for his life for 24 days. Desperate to win international approval, Chinese officials argue that the human-rights situation in their country is improving. The State Department´s report proves just the opposite is true.

Beijing´s behavior during the Hainan hostage crisis in April only confirmed this conclusion. In holding our 24 servicemen and -women captive for 10 days without explanation, the Chinese flouted all diplomatic protocols and norms of international behavior. Americans gained valuable insight into the true nature of China´s repressive regime during the crisis. It reminded us that a government that routinely violates the human rights of its citizens naturally treats foreigners with the same disrespect. Can we expect the same abuse when American diplomats, athletes and fans travel to Beijing for the 2008 games?

During the 1930s, Olympic officials faced a similar decision. Should they overlook Nazi Germany´s human-rights abuses and grant the resurgent economic power its bid for the 1936 games? They did, and it was a mistake. Jesse Owen´s heroics notwithstanding, the Berlin Olympics served to strengthen Adolf Hitler´s standing in the world. Headlines from the Aug. 16, 1936, issue of the New York Times tell it all: "Olympics leave glow of pride in the Reich", "A piece of perfect German pageantry", "Germans themselves seem to have taken lessons to heart and visitors gain a good impression." The rest is history we dare not forget.

When Mr. Cox and I introduced our resolution, the Embassy of China launched a crude public-relations campaign to kill the measure, sending a letter to our colleagues on Capitol Hill stating that "any attempt to deny China´s right to host the Games is a challenge to the universal principle of human rights." China does not have the "right" to host the games. Hosting is a privilege that must be earned, and China has not earned that honor.

Opposing China´s Olympic bid on human-rights grounds also would make clear that the United States does not compromise its principles for commercial interests. This summer, Congress will consider President Bush´s decision to renew normalized trade relations with China, made necessary because China failed to accede to the World Trade Organization since Congress approved Permanent Normal Trade Relations last year. Granting China normalized trade relations, however, does not mean we grant China a pass on human rights. The Chinese government must not confuse support for economic ties with support for its oppressive political system.

I look forward to the day when the Olympics will be held in Beijing. China is one of the world´s great civilizations, rich in history and culture. Its people are among the most dynamic, its athletes among the most talented. But, unfortunately, its government is among the most tyrannical. China should earn the games not because of its size or economic strength, but by virtue of its commitment to human rights and to upholding the Olympic ideal. Congress must not remain silent on this critical issue. We should uphold the principle of right over might and vote to oppose China´s Olympic bid. Now.

Tom Lantos is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California and the ranking Democratic member of the House International Relations Committee.

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