Olympic Picks: Human Rights Abuses and China
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GWEN IFILL: Now, two opposing views. Congressman Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California, is the ranking member of the House International Relations Committee, co chair of the Human Rights Caucus, and sponsor of the resolution we just mentioned. Wang Jian Wei is a visiting scholar at George Washington University, and the author of the recent book Limited Adversaries: Post-Cold War Sino- American Mutual Images. He is a citizen of the People’s Republic of China.
Congressman Lantos, why should China be denied the right, the opportunity, to host these Olympics in 2008?
REP. TOM LANTOS: Because China’s human rights record is an unmitigated disgrace. They persecute people for religious reasons. There is no political freedom. There is no media freedom. American scholars are arrested. A little while ago we had our reconnaissance plane forced down, our service people were kept against their wish for 11 days in Chinese captivity. It is a totalitarian police state. It would be the ultimate outrage to have the International Olympics Committee give them this opportunity of basking in the reflected glory of the Olympics. Police states are excellent at staging pageantries. Hitler benefited enormously from the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. And we know what happened in the years following. The Soviet Union had the Olympics in 1980, and there came nine years of Soviet suppression. I would love to see the Olympics in China… Once their human rights record is cleaned up.
GWEN IFILL: Dr. Wang, those are strong words. What’s your response?
WANG JIAN WEI: Yes, with all respect, I think that I disagree with some of the points raised by Congressman. I agree that China has a lot of human rights problems, but the problem is that… The question here is not whether we debate if China has a human rights problem or not but rather, you know, whether China deserves to have these games and whether to give China the opportunity to have this Olympic game will improve the human rights in China or make it worse.
GWEN IFILL: You think these are two separate issues, about whether China actually has reasonable human rights protections and whether this event should come to Beijing? You see those as two separate things?
WANG JIAN WEI: Yes I see these as two separate things because I have a problem with the logic of Congressman’s argument. He seems to say that because China has serious human rights problems, China should not get the Olympic games. And well, you can extend that logic to other issues, too, you can argue, well, China probably should not be the member of the WTO because of human rights issues. Probably the United States should not do any trade with China because of human rights issues. So basically if you use that logic, if you apply this logic consistently, then basically you are talking about shutting China out of the international community.
GWEN IFILL: I’m sorry. Go ahead.
WANG JIAN WEI: I don’t think this is the right way to improve the human rights situation in China.
GWEN IFILL: What about that, Congressman Lantos, the situation of China on the verge of being accepted into the WTO with a lot of American business working there doing business and in fact paying for this bid. This is different from what happened with Germany in 1936.
REP. TOM LANTOS: Well, it’s not very different. It’s a totalitarian police state that tortures citizens who freely express their views– religious, political or otherwise. It is certainly not different from Moscow in 1980, which was a totalitarian police state. The note that the Olympiad, which in its very charter calls for respecting the dignity of the individual, that that should be ignored is simply preposterous. We are not living in a purely commercial world. We are living in a world where young men and women– the athletes from all over the world– should be competing in a free society. Now just imagine the Olympics go to China in 2008 and the Chinese perpetrate outrages similar to the ones we had at Tianamen Square just a decade ago. What would be our reaction?
We have some excellent choices. We have Canada and we have France — both Democratic states fully prepared to host the Olympics. I think one of the most remarkable things about the Chinese plan is that they have public executions with mass audiences in places where they plan to build Olympic stadiums. Well, I don’t think American athletes want to compete in stadiums, which today are used for mass executions.
GWEN IFILL: Dr. Wang, how do you respond to that?
WANG JIAN WEI: Well, I’m not sure what the Congressman says about the public executions is still prevailing practice in China.
REP. TOM LANTOS: It’s in today’s paper on the front page of today’s paper.
GWEN IFILL: Congressman, I would like Dr. Wang to have a chance to respond.
WANG JIAN WEI: It used to be the case during the heyday of the Cultural Revolution, you know, when the human rights situation was at its worst in the history of the PRC. So another point I want to raise is that while China does have human rights problems and, you know, but on the other hand we have to look at things in the long term. For example, we have to look at the whole picture — the development over the last 20 years compared to 1960s, 1970s — whether the human rights situation in China has become better or worse. I think that the answer is pretty self-evident.
GWEN IFILL: What about giving the Olympics bid to China would encourage China to continue– if it is as you say it is on a positive path– would encourage that to continue? Why couldn’t they just say, aha, we have this now — we don’t have to do anything now?
WANG JIAN WEI: There are a couple of things that will benefit China moving towards the direction of betterment. First of all I think that the Olympics will facilitate China’s further integration into the international community, you know, together with the membership of the WTO and China has to adapt more to the international standards and norms in doing things. Secondly, I think that the Olympics will also diffuse the writhing nationalism in China. As you know, the Chinese were not very happy with their failed bid in 1993, and so that will give the Chinese some feeling that it looks like, you know, they are part of the international community. And they are accepted by the world.
GWEN IFILL: Congressman Lantos, has it hurt or helped for the Bush administration to remain neutral in this? And in addition to that for Dick Armey, the Majority Leader, to say today that he will not be voting on your resolution this week.
REP. TOM LANTOS: Let me first deal with the Republican leadership which, in an unprecedentedly arrogant and undemocratic fashion, denies the membership of the House of Representatives to freely express their views on an issue of such importance. In 1993, I had a similar resolution and we voted on it on the floor of the House and it passed overwhelmingly. In committee, my resolution passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support. Now, Dick Armey’s bottling it up and Speaker Hastert is not allowing it to come to the floor because they know as well as I do that with an overwhelming majority– Republicans and Democrats– would vote for this resolution because they express the sentiments of the American people as their representatives.
GWEN IFILL: But, Congressman, if there is no House vote and if the White House doesn’t speak on this, does that leave you at a disadvantage with your argument?
REP. TOM LANTOS: Well, it doesn’t change the validity of the argument. It gives you a clue as to the commitment of this White House and this Republican leadership to human rights.
GWEN IFILL: What do you think is going to happen on Friday in Moscow when the IOC meets to vote?
REP. TOM LANTOS: That’s an excellent question. The Chinese have been bribing and threatening large numbers of members of the IOC. They now have enough commitments to win. But, of course, the vote is secret. Many of the people they intimidated or bribed may, in a secret vote, in fact, choose to vote for France or Canada.
GWEN IFILL: Dr. Wang, what do you think is going to happen? Is it a matter of bribery or deception or is it going to be the best country wins?
WANG JIAN WEI: Well, I don’t know what the substantial evidence that the Congressman has about the bribing of Chinese to get the Olympics. I think that maybe this time China has a better chance than last time in 1993. First of all, in 1993, you know, the world of communities was still… still had a fresh memory of the Tianamen Square, which take place four years ago. Secondly I think that because China lost its bid in 1993 and there is, you know, kind of a custom in the history that, you know, probably China could be compensated for its loss in 1993.
GWEN IFILL: What is at stake for China economically because of this vote on Friday?
WANG JIAN WEI: Economically? I think in terms of economic terms I think that probably the membership to the WTO is much more important to China than the Olympics. Of course, the Olympic games will bring, you know, more investment, and opportunities to China. But I don’t think that with or without Olympics China’s economic development will continue.
GWEN IFILL: Dr. Wang and Congressman Lantos, thank you both for joining us.
WANG JIAN WEI: Thank you.