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Why the Olympic torch matters
The Olympic torch relay gives the world the perfect chance to protest China's human rights record, said the Los Angeles Times, because it has always been a "deeply political" PR "extravaganza" for the host country. Instead of talking p
 

W

hat happened
Thousands of people gathered for a vigil in opposition to Chinese rule in Tibet ahead of Wednesday’s San Francisco leg of the Olympic torch relay leading up the Summer Games in Beijing. “We want to say to China,” said South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “We thought that the Olympic Games would help you improve your human rights record.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

What the commentators said
China says the protests dogging the torch relay are putting politics above “love of sport,” but that’s “nonsense,” said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial (free registration). “From its very beginning, the torch relay has been deeply political”—it was “invented by the Nazis” as a “promotional extravaganza” ahead of the 1936 Berlin Games. So what better way could the world have for protesting China’s horrible human rights record than “peaceably thumbing its nose at Beijing's international coming-out party?”

Instead of talking about protests and boycotts, said John K. Cooley in The Christian Science Monitor, why not revive the tradition of the Olympic Truce? None of the Olympic boycotts attempted in the 20th century “had the slightest beneficial effect on the political situations they tried to target.” But proposing a truce—a concept introduced to help athletes and fans travel safely through war zones to attend the Games in the 9th century B.C.—might actually get China to go easy on its long-suffering dissidents.

Shaming China “would be counterproductive,” said actress Joan Chen in The Washington Post (free registration). If the U.S. boycotts the opening ceremonies in Beijing, as some have suggested, it will only show China that the world doesn’t recognize the “unimaginable progress” it has made in recent decades. Since the Cultural Revolution ended in the 1970s, China has “evolved into a more open government eager to join the international community.” “Let's celebrate the Olympics for what the Games are meant to be—a bridge for friendship, not a playground for politics.”

Here’s an idea, said The New York Times in an editorial (free registration). How about if China stops “arresting dissidents.” And while it’s at it, it could “stop spreading lies about the Dalai Lama, and start talking to him about greater religious and cultural freedoms for Tibet. Stop being an enabler to Sudan in its genocide in Darfur.” In other words, China could quiet the protesters by starting to deliver on the pledges it made to the International Olympic Committee to respect human rights.
 

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