08 April, 2008

Should we boycott the Olympics?

Hillary Clinton says that Bush should boycott the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. That seems like relatively small beer, but there is definitely an argument to be made for much broader action. A group of Western countries could pull their athletes until the situation in Tibet is resolved for example. The athletes themselves could stage some sort of protest. I think this is a truly ambiguous situation--there are good arguments on both sides.

The argument in favor of a protest or boycott is fairly simple. China has committed countless human rights abuses over the years. Their occupation of Tibet and claim on Taiwan are completely unacceptable and unbecoming of a country that wants to be taken seriously in the modern world. Their propaganda is laughable. Raining on their parade would send a message to the People's Republic that these acts are not to be tolerated.

On the other hand, we risk a lot by pulling such a stunt. China has been slowly integrating with the world over the last 40 years. As it has integrated, restrictions on economic and personal freedoms have slowly been lifted. Do we want to trigger a retreat from the world? We don't want the largest (and soon to be richest) country on our bad side. The argument that Brad Delong might make is that we do not want Chinese children growing up in a world in which, instead of welcoming them into the world community, we have shunned them. In so far as having a successful Olympics is a symbol of national pride, the average Chinese peasant might end up less amicable to America and Americans.

Do we punish China and risk forfeiting cooperation in the future? Or do we grin and bear it now so that cooperation can be sustained?


Elliot said...

I think I agree with Yglesias' take on this: Beijing should not have been granted the Olympics in the first place, but now that they have been it will not achieve much to sabotage them.

Although, in some sense, perhaps the attention that Beijing is receiving regarding Tibet would be much less sans Olympics, I have little faith that boycotting the Olympics would have any real impact on their policy. James Fallows says that the Chinese on average feel as strongly regarding Tibet as we do regarding the 9/11 attacks. If that is true, it will take much greater pressure than an Olympic boycott to change the course of events.

But in a larger philosophical sense I am very skeptical that isolation does more good than consistent engagement. Think Cuba, Iraq, North Korea. Considering the economic power of China, and the difficulty in applying effective sanctions, I think the best path is to continually nudge China towards greater liberalization without alienating them. I myself think pretty significant political liberalization is not as far off as we may think in the People's Republic, and isolating China will not hasten its arrival.

Cassady said...

I tend to agree with Elliot, although maybe I'm more of a hard-liner.

I find it completely unacceptable that the developed world by and large has ignored the fact that China invaded and excercised undue authority according to the treaty that THEY SIGNED, and now no longer recognizes the Tibetan government in exile. Neither do we, incidentally.

The fact that there hasn't been a larger world response until now, or much along the lines of proactive engagement with the PRC aside from mild-mannered protests of their human rights violations in the 60's is nothing short of appalling.

It seems to me that most people don't even realize that China has systematically broken or ignored nearly every point of the treaty signed in 1951, which alone justifies Tibetan sovereignty to me. The arguments from the Chinese side based on the historical succession of states doesn't (or shouldn't, I think) hold any water considering it was determined by an international council that Tibet had, for a long time, presented all of the key elements of independent statehood.

So, to bring it all back to the question. I have no idea what the best course of action concerning the Olympics should be. I'm just mad that they're getting away with this. I think Elliot has good points, that it will take more than the Olympics to solve this, and I've always believed that the Olympics represent a type of world unity that we just don't have elsewhere. As such, I feel they should be honored, not used as political leverage, and looked forward to as a sign that the world can coexist peacefully. (I'm ignoring past boycotts and Munich, obviously, that is just what I feel about it)