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Great Idea for "handling" the Chinese Olympics

From the editors of The New Republic
These Olympics afford our athletes an opportunity that citizens of the free world rarely get: to travel to a country where speech is tightly regulated and to speak--without fear of retribution and from a significant public platform--about the injustices that country inflicts on its own citizens, as well as others. The 2008 games will provide no shortage of chances to do this. In 2006, speed skater Joey Cheek spoke about Darfur after winning his gold medal in Turin. If an athlete expressed similar sentiments to a pack of journalists next year, while adding some observations on how Beijing has facilitated the genocide, he or she would instantly command the world's attention. Similarly, a press conference called by multiple American athletes in a prominent Beijing location to discuss Chinese support for the junta in Burma would not go unnoticed. Nor would an open letter by U.S. athletes to China's leaders demanding the release of specific political prisoners--delivered in person to a top official at the games.

Of course, China tightly controls domestic media, which means these displays would not necessarily reach average citizens. But there are ways around this problem. Chinese-language banners unfurled by athletes at the opening ceremonies that call for the government to permit free speech, t-shirts slipped on during medal ceremonies that carry messages of solidarity with Chinese dissidents--these gestures could reach tens of thousands of spectators and, through word of mouth, many more. And, even if such images are seen only by a tiny fraction of China's population, they will invariably be viewed by millions around the world--perhaps becoming iconic symbols of resistance, like the famous shot of black athletes with their fists raised at the 1968 Olympics. This would itself be valuable. The men who rule China are brutal, but they are also insecure; and they value these Olympics mainly as a chance to cement their status as respectable members of the world community. If, rather than a point of pride, the Beijing games become a point of controversy or debate or even shame, it could provoke these autocrats to rethink their behavior.

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