When China was awarded
the Olympics in 2001, the organizers hoped the spotlight would bring a new openness
to the communist country and would help China better integrate into the international
China hoped the Olympics would cement its place as a global
economic and political power.
"China wants to use the Olympics as
a turning point," Yang Bojiang, a Japan scholar at the China Institutes of
Contemporary International Relations, told the New York Times.
wants to make its society turn into a more mature society
and improve its
Limits on speech and the press
But concerns remain that China has
not lived up to its pledge in 2002 to "be open in every aspect," and
improve human rights policies such as free speech and press.
The new aquatic center built for the Olympics is a source of national pride, but
the human rights controversy could put a damper on the games.
While the country
was not obligated to sign any contract with the International Olympic Committee
saying it would improve press freedoms and human rights, Chinese officials made
statements on the issue, including Beijing's mayor, who said during the Olympic
selection process that hosting the Olympics would "benefit the further development
of our human rights cause."
In a report released by Amnesty International
ten days before the start of the games, the organization said "Chinese authorities
have broken their promise to improve the country's human rights situation and
betrayed the core values of the Olympics."
The group said China continues
to imprison peaceful activists and continues to inhibit free reporting by members
of the foreign and domestic press.
Dealing with dissent
China has been widely criticized
for its tough crackdowns on activists and protesters speaking out against the
The exiled Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, said China is engaged in
the "cultural genocide" of his people.
"They've been actually been quite draconian in terms of cracking
down on demonstrations in Tibet and some of the leading dissidents have all been
jailed prior to the games," said Victor Cha, an Asian studies expert at Georgetown
University, in an National Public Radio interview.
When anti-Chinese protests
erupted in Tibet in March, the Chinese government responded with force, throwing
tear gas into the crowds and arresting protesters. Tibet, located in the southwest
corner of China, has been struggling to gain independence from China for 57 years.
March protests spread into surrounding regions where Chinese forces shot and wounded
The crackdown prompted the U.S. House of Representatives
to pass a near unanimous resolution calling for immediate action to stop the arrests
of civil activists and Tibetans in China. It also called for the country to stop
supporting Myanmar and Sudan, two governments facing their own major human rights
Freedom of the Press
Human rights groups also criticize
the Chinese government for suppressing information by censoring access to many
sites on the Internet and attempting to restrict reporting of events or issues
that reflect poorly on the government.
Foreign journalists found many Web sites were censored at the Olympic press center
when they first arrived in China.
PEN, the international writers'
organization, accuses China of "a grinding and relentless campaign to jail
or silence prominent dissident voices" that has only accelerated as the Olympics
near. PEN compiled a list of 44 writers and journalists currently in prison, at
least 10 of which were arrested in recent months.
One of the journalists,
Hu Jia, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for disseminating information
showing that China was not improving its record on human rights abuses.
also said that "there is also increasing evidence of an organized effort
to restrict movement of dissidents and writers to keep them from meeting freely
with international observers before and during the Olympics."
of government censorship was obvious to foreign journalists when they logged on
to the Web from the new Olympic press center in Beijing last week. Reporters found
they could not access many prominent Web sites, including Reuters, Radio Free
Europe and the BBC's China pages.
After a backlash from media groups, China
unblocked many of the well-known sites, but the Los Angeles Times reports many
lesser known Web sites are still off limits.
The Games go on
all the controversies, IOC President Jacques Rogge said he is not concerned about
how the games will be received.
"Come the 9th of August, the day after
the opening ceremony, the magic of the games and the flawless organization will
take over," Rogge said.