Sophie Zavaglia: Olympic games present opportunity

With recent Tibetan uprisings, constant protesting and only a few months left before opening ceremonies, it’s easy to get caught up in a furor over the 2008 Summer Olympics. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk were among the first world leaders to officially pledge to boycott the opening ceremonies. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has hinted he might boycott the ceremonies as well, and this month Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) introduced House bill 5668, which would restrict officials and employees of the federal government from attending the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic Games.

This uproar has raised a huge question in my mind: should I, as a decent human being, watch the Beijing Olympics?

It is an undeniable truth that the Chinese Communist Party has a long and embarrassing record of human rights abuses, censorship of free speech and repeated arrests of political dissidents. It is also undeniable that China has been less than critical of regimes with horrible human rights records such as Sudan and North Korea. Despite these facts, we should not automatically boycott the Olympics simply because they are being hosted in Beijing.

In order to fully understand the significance of the Beijing Olympics, it is important to acknowledge the fact that China is currently undergoing huge social, cultural and economic changes – and has been for decades. Chinese citizens are beginning to reap the economic and social benefits of an increasingly stable economy.

For example, in 1985 the average income in China was $293. In 2006, it averaged $2025, according to the World Bank. Many Chinese are also increasingly dissatisfied with the current state of repression in their nation. Political dissidents lobbying for increased rights have been incredibly active in the past couple of decades. The CCP often arrests protesters rather than responding to their concerns. Just last week, human rights activist and political dissident Hu Jia was sentenced to three-and-a-half years of prison for “subverting state power” after lobbying for increased freedom of expression. Clearly, the Chinese Communist Party is having an increasingly difficult time legitimizing excessive laws of censorship and repression. External factors notwithstanding, the CCP is at a critical turning point in history. The next few decades could see the introduction and success of democracy, or the intensification of an already repressive Communist regime.

The Beijing Olympics are an unprecedented chance for the world to get a small glimpse into China and into the collective mind of the CCP, one we may not get again. Because of this unique opportunity, I will certainly be watching the Beijing Olympics – opening ceremonies and all.

The official purpose of the Olympics is to bring the world’s most talented athletes to compete in an affirmation of “the universal values of the Olympic spirit – Unity, Friendship, Progress, Harmony, Participation and Dream.” How will the Games – a symbol of these values – influence the Chinese people and government? What consequences, if any, will this event have for the nation, and moreover for the spread of democracy? We will never know unless we watch it all unfold.

By no means am I saying that we should support China’s human rights abuses. We are right to condemn them. However, instead of simply turning off the television and ignoring the whole ceremony, we should watch and seek to understand an incredibly complex nation so that we, as members of a free country, can better understand the CCP and China, a country whose people are crying out for political and social freedom.

The writer is a sophomore majoring in political science.

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