U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison has become the first Minnesota elected official to step forward and address the connections between the Summer Olympics and China’s foreign policy and domestic human rights policies.
The Democratic 5th District congressman issued a remarkably strong statement Friday that broadly criticized the Chinese government for its Tibet policy and for its relationship with Sudan’s leaders “as they commit genocide on the citizens of Darfur.”
The recent riots and crackdown in Tibet and the Beijing government’s sales of arms to — and reliance of oil from — Sudan are two issues that have some human rights activists and politicians worldwide calling for a boycott of the Olympics.
Ellison criticizes China stands but stops short of Games boycott
But Ellison stopped short of that.
“If China wants to host the Olympics this summer, an event that embodies the promise of the youth of the world, then China must begin to exhibit the moral leadership that goes with such an honor,” Ellison said in his statement. “That starts with Tibet — today. If China does not demonstrate the moral leadership required, we should utilize every economic and moral tool at the world’s disposal to reprimand China accordingly.”
“If” China “wants” to host the Games? And use every “moral tool at the world’s disposal”?
The congressman seems to be skating close to the “b” word, which has been supported for a variety of reasons by 14 members of the House now, under the terms of Resolution 610.
The resolution includes a litany of complaints against China. Indeed, it was first introduced last August by an odd bipartisan group of House members, led by conservatives, such as Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., and Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., a liberal and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. War-torn Darfur, and Sudan’s role there, triggered the resolution last year.
More recently, Wolf chided President Bush for reiterating that he will attend the Beijing Games and their Opening Ceremonies. Wolf has talked about barring the use of federal funds to send government officials — with the exception of Bush — to the Games.
Wolf has said any American seen cheering in the Beijing stadiums “will go down in history as cooperating in the ‘genocide Olympics’ of 2008. And history will never, ever, ever forgive them.”
Over the weekend, Ellison wasn’t available to elaborate on his Olympics statement. His office confirmed this morning that the congressman was in Egypt and met with the prime minister there. Further details of Ellison’s trip are not being revealed for security reasons.
But Rick Jauert, Ellison’s Washington communications director, told MinnPost Sunday night that Ellison isn’t ready yet to jump on a boycott bandwagon.
Ellison is “really frustrated” by China’s stances in Darfur and Tibet, Jauert said. But “what that vehicle is” to register the proper message to the Chinese is unclear, Jauert said. More discussions and briefings on the Tibet issue are expected soon at the Capitol.
Minnesota athletes, understandably, oppose boycott
For their part, a handful of Minnesota athletes interviewed recently and asked about a potential boycott of the Games expressed opposition to such a notion. As has been previously reported in MinnPost, some key anti-China activists on the Darfur issue have stated they, too, don’t want to disrupt the athletic aspect of the Olympics. Rather, they will attempt to demonstrate in Beijing and leverage the Games and the publicity of the global audience.
Shani Marks, the former Gophers track star, the defending national triple jump champ and a strong candidate to make the U.S. Olympic track team, said last week she didn’t expect much support from U.S. athletes for any political actions at the Games.
“Personally, I think as an athlete your one focus is being prepared on that day or on those days [you compete],” Marks said.
Katie McGregor — another local Olympic candidate, she in the 10,000 meters — said she, too, will stay away from political statements, if she gets to Beijing, and would expect political groups to seek support from higher profile athletes than she.
Besides, an Olympics happens only every four years for athletes, often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity after years of grueling training in sports with limited financial return.
Still, creativity among some athletes is percolating. Romain Mesnil, a French pole vaulter and world championship silver medalist, suggested over the weekend that athletes wear relatively harmless and discreet green armbands during the Games to bring a spotlight to human rights issues in China.
And there continues to be conversation in Europe that some nations may boycott only the Opening Ceremonies as a slap at the Chinese, but not as a punishment to athletes. A new poll, released in France Monday, shows that about half of those polled favor a boycott of the Ceremonies, but not of the entire Games.
The chorus of diverse voices — from Ellison’s to Mesnil’s — has created enough buzz that International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge felt compelled Sunday to issue a statement from his office in Switzerland as the symbolic Olympic torch relay kicked off this morning in Greece, but the event was disrupted by a handful of protesters.
“We believe that China will change by opening the country to the scrutiny of the world through the 25,000 media who will attend the Games,” Rogge said. “The Olympic Games are a force for good. They are a catalyst for change, not a panacea for all ills.”
Among others, Congressman Ellison is watching and, according to Jauert, pondering his next step.