Smart Move: Why President Sarkozy’s attendance at the Beijing Olympics should be an act for world leaders to follow.

Jennifer Leong (Hong Kong, UWCAC06-08)

French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who was the first world leader to raise the possibility of skipping the Opening Ceremony of this year’s Olympic Games to protest against China’s handling of the Tibet riots, revealed on July 9 that he would be attending the festivities in Beijing after all. This adds to a growing list of leaders of state travelling to the Chinese capital next month, which includes American President George Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he will attend the closing ceremony only, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have said they plan to stay away.

Sarkozy warned that ‘a boycott could push a population of 1.3 billion people into wounded nationalism’. Beijing was elected Host City for the 2008 Olympics 7 years ago in Moscow, with the Olympics Commission’s vote of confidence that ‘a Beijing Games would leave a unique legacy to China and to sports’. Since then, the Games has been held as a great opportunity for China to showcase her abundant heritage to the world, contributing to her international standing and growth of tourism. A poorly attended Opening Ceremony would no doubt sour relations between the fiercely patriotic Chinese and the absent world leaders and the countries they represent.

Another more realistic reason for world leaders to temporarily sidestep the infamous human rights record of China is a purely economical one. China, as a rising power, is currently creditor to 502 billion USD American debts, that is around 19% of America’s Treasury Securities. China is also a major client for European enterprises, like the plane manufacturer Airbus, not to mention a major textile exporter. Worsened relations with the Asian giant could mean disaster on the economic front.

This is not to say the leaders of the world should throw away all principles of human rights and democratic values to please China. Of course, the country today is still troubled by serious issues like the lack of progress in negotiations with the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader in exile, and the lack of press freedom in the country. However, there is doubt over the effectiveness of putting political pressure on China by boycotting the Opening celebrations. The Communist Party has always found strength in acting toughly, as witnessed in the crackdown on the Tibetan riots in March; in the face of challenge, the Government would never back down, neither would it make concessions, because that would mean political victory for its challengers. In light of this mentality, there is no doubt in my mind that acting defiant with the Chinese authorities would not produce constructive outcomes. Instead, the world leaders might consider fighting for their course by visiting Beijing next month, chatting with President Hu over a serving of jasmine tea.

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, July 10 issue

– United World College Student Magazine –


4 thoughts on “Smart Move: Why President Sarkozy’s attendance at the Beijing Olympics should be an act for world leaders to follow.

  1. Dear Jenny,

    I am in total agreement with you. We should, I believe, consider that the Olympics are the probably biggest international event we have whose purpose is at least not directly economic. It provides leaders with substantial possibilities for peace-building in a non-political environment. Boycotting the Olympics, world leaders would suddenly give a political touch to the games, which seems to me utterly out of place. We will never reach world peace by refusing to attend the perhaps only truly international event that is left to us. As you said: Solutions are not reached by boycotts, but by meetings and discussion, over Jasmine tea or also Swiss Birchermuesli 😉

  2. I am in absolute disagreement with the suggested tea-chatting policy suggested by Andrea and Jen. Only two days ago the human rights organisation Amnesty International ( had to realise together with thousands of journalists in the International Olympic Press Centre in Beijing that its website is not accessible. The same holds true for the Chinese versions of the British BBC ( and the German DW-World (,2144,3524982,00.html). It is definitely of no good if international statesmen boycott the Olympic Games, but to blindly accept the restrictions imposed on the international press by the Chinese authorities does not help either.
    That the international community and the IOC follows any of the Chinese authorities’ move in obedience is disturbing and a slap in the face of every human rights and environmental activist in China who strives to improve the life of his people. Those are the real patriots the international community should support. Especially because China is becoming the most influential economic power it is so important to insist on the protection of the very basic human rights. China insists human rights are solely a domestic issue (, but that is ridiculous. Human Rights can never be a domestic issue. Human Rights are valid everywhere at any time, totally detached from national borders. Everybody who claims human rights to be a domestic issue, clearly misunderstood the idea of human rights. Evidence that that is the case in China can be found en masse on the homepages of Greenpeace, Amnesty International, BBC and Co.
    I do not purely believe what the human rights organisations and international press association write about the situation in China, but I cannot help to develop a certain degree of suspicion if the Chinese authorities themselves start to block the websites of exactly those institutions who question that everything in China is perfect.
    Everybody who believes in the diplomatic way of solving the many problems China experiences, should be interested in an open dialogue including all parties. The one-way communication preferred by the Chinese authorities (and all those who boycott the Olympics) will only manifest the existing problems and worsen the living conditions of the Chinese people.
    It is time to address China’s human rights issues, but that is only possible if all voices can be heard. Tea-Chatting might be a smart move to protect those who are already privileged anyways, without endangering the relations between economic super-powers. However, as long as the international community and the IOC (!) do not make clear that excessive press censorship cannot be tolerated, they are in the same way responsible for the ongoing human rights violations, which occur in China and affect the lives of individuals who would love to chat with President Hu over a cup of Jasmine tea – somehow most of them found their houses destroyed and families tortured ( and

  3. And one question; how can political leaders build peace in a non-political environment? Since when are the Olympics non political? They have never been non-political and neither should they. It’s true they provide a great chance for peace-building, but please with everybody and not only those the Chinese authorities consider worthy of being heard.

  4. No matter what sort of unacceptable action China takes; I do not believe that boycotts will ever be productive. Attending the Olympics, we do not automatically subordinate ourselves to the Chinese authorities and accept their actions. Attendance does not equal acceptance. Improvement can only be reached through confrontation, not trough isolation (the essence of a boycott).

    It is interesting you mentioned economics: They are indeed of paramount importance in these events. Naturally, we would endanger our political relations with China by boycotting the games. Therefore, one could argue that finances have become so important to us that we shamelessly put economic values before respect for human rights through attending the Olympics. There is, I believe, another issue that should be considered: We should ask ourselves about the element (s) that drive politics. Under what circumstances would China be interested in releasing the pressure it puts on its citizens? I do not think the West can “force” China with ethic arguments. We all know that our children will be dying if we do not take action against climate change. Nevertheless, not exactly a lot is being done to cut emissions. Appealing to ethics is not very efficient when trying to trigger political action. Consider another case: You want to buy a car, and there’s one model that is very expensive and uses a lot of gas, and another one that is way cheaper and runs on green technologies. As an average consumer, you will not so much care about the energy it is running on, but about the price you can get it for. What I am trying to say is that economic considerations are of immense importance to our decision-making process. Economic relations with China, I argue, might be the only element that could allow us to cross East-West ideological differences. I do not believe we will get anywhere by saying “listen, I think what you are doing is against human rights”. Human rights have a very strong tradition in Western societies, but not necessarily in China. If we really want to act, politicians in co-operation with economists have to try to take advantage of the economic ties with China in order to manipulate politics. I am sure a lot of economic incentives could be created for the Chinese to for example releasing their press censures.

    Boycotting the Olympics, the West would not only harm its political and economic relations with China, a country we have to keep in mind might very soon become a second US, but boycott its perhaps only way to solve the problem.

    No matter how problematic and difficult arguments we face, the solution can never be isolation. If our ideological differences are too big to be overcome through talks, then we need to find new ways of winning the argument. Economics could provide a powerful framework for such action. In any case, we must find a way to co-operate. Today, we are “only” talking about a sports event. Tomorrow, however, political decisions of a much larger scale might create a conflict. And tomorrow, this conflict might be happening between two super powers: The West and China. Do we want to face a Third World War? If not, we better try finding ways of talking to each other. We will not be able to force China to accept our views, but we will have to find incentives to make China want to accept our views.

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