For Hu, The Bell Tolls

For the crime of expressing dissatisfaction with his government, Chinese freethinker Hu Jia has been sentenced to prison, despite an international chorus of protest. His wife remains under house arrest.

Meanwhile, when not distracted by its ongoing bludgeoning and suffocation of Tibet, China preens in the global spotlight as the host of the impending Olympics. It would behoove the rest of us not to show up, I think.

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  1. the one eyed man says

    Nancy Pelosi has called on Bush to skip the opening ceremonies, which I think would be the right move to do.

    Is the implication in your last sentence that the athletes should stay home?

    Posted April 4, 2008 at 12:14 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    I feel sorry for them, but I think they should. Perhaps the world might demonstrate thereby that repressive states shouldn’t get full privileges. Indeed, the athletes needn’t stay home, but might convene for an alternative competition elsewhere.

    Posted April 4, 2008 at 12:17 pm | Permalink
  3. the one eyed man says

    This raises three obvious questions:

    1) Do you think Jimmy Carter’s boycott of the Russian Olympics was productive?

    2) Would you be OK if we held an Olympics and the world boycotted it because of our occupation of Iraq?

    3) Should the athletes have a voice in making this decision?

    Posted April 4, 2008 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    1) Productive? Not particularly. China, who seeks ascendancy among the trading nations of the world, would care more about a boycott now than Russia did at the height of the Cold War, I think.

    2) What would it matter if I would be OK or not? I realize the war is unpopular.

    3) No. This is a serious matter of global politics. The opinions of a 13-year-old gymnast, however precociously insightful they may be, are secondary.

    Posted April 4, 2008 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    In addition, regarding 1): there are other considerations beyond the utilitarian in this sort of thing. The world could make a clear and unambiguous gesture here.

    Posted April 4, 2008 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  6. the one eyed man says

    1) Having lived and worked there, I would be shocked if keeping the athletes home would do anything at all for the Tibetans or those who are imprisoned. In Chinese culture, insulting your host is about the worst thing you can do. If the Chinese lose face, they will react by finding an equally assertive response, not by granting concessions. The likeliest response would be to throw more people in jail to show that they aren’t influenced by outside pressure.

    Moreover, China has not only ascended into the trading nations of the world, but they hold more cards than we do. Besides being one of our largest trading partners – we sell them tons of airplanes, pharmaceuticals, technology, agricultural products, and Britney Spears videos — they hold billions (trillions?) of dollars of Treasuries. All they have to do to cause financial catastrophe around the world is to sell dollars. The fact is that we need them at least as much as they need us. Boycotting the Russian Olympics achieved nothing – in fact it was a miserable failure — and it is hard to see how boycotting the Beijing Olympics would do any better, while exposing us to potential economic disaster (not to mention the consequences regarding Taiwan, Chinese pressure on North Korea, and all sorts of things where we need their cooperation).

    2) If you keep our athletes home to make a point, then others will do the same when they have grievances of their own. Ultimately you will have to host all of the Olympics in Switzerland, if not lose the events altogether.

    3) I’m not sure how many athletes are thirteen – and those who are have parents – but I would not be so cavalier as to make all of their training and dedication a waste of time to make a point. Nor do I think our actions of the past few years give us much right to lecture the rest of the world on how to behave. China is a totalitarian regime which jails its opponents (not much different from regimes we actively support, such as Egypt and Pakistan). Once we conduct a foreign policy which universally supports democracy, then perhaps we will have the credibility which will cause others to pay attention. Until then, keeping our athletes home would be a futile gesture which is harmful not only to the athletes but to our own national interests.

    Posted April 4, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Hi Peter,

    We do see some things rather differently; if you regard the US and China as equivalent on democracy and human rights, then you and I probably don’t have a whole lot to talk about. On the one hand you castigate us for fostering democracy in Iraq, and on the other insist that we have no credibility until we are doing so everywhere.

    Well then! We’d better not do anything to offend the Chinese: as far as influence in the world is concerned they’ve obviously already won, and of course all that matters is hanging on to them as consumers, because they clearly don’t need the goodwill of the rest of the world for anything. I do hope they don’t see all these blog posts I’ve written about the importance of human rights — I’d hate for them to be angry at us. If we don’t keep them appeased, and their “face” unsullied, they are likely to do worse than they already are, you tell us, so we’d better suck it up and make nice. You are quite right, of course: bullies dislike being talked back to.

    The problem I have is that while admittedly it would be a horrifying prospect for the Olympics — the heritage of ancient Athens, the birthplace of democracy — to be able to be held only in politically decent nations, and a humanitarian disaster that would eclipse the historical sorrows of famine, pestilence, tyranny and war for our hard-working pole-vaulters and synchronized swimmers to be denied their medals, I think that honoring China with hosting the Olympics while Tibet writhes in agony and thousands of Hu Jias languish in dungeons merely for speaking their minds is simply the wrong message for the world to be sending.

    Posted April 4, 2008 at 2:29 pm | Permalink
  8. the one eyed man says

    I don’t regard the US and China to be “equivalent on democracy and human rights,” just as I don’t think that we are a totalitarian regime. Far from it. However, despite the lip service we give to promoting democracy and freedom, we support tyrannical regimes when it suits our perceived interest to do so. If we are going to keep governments in power which imprison their political enemies by bankrolling them, then it is hypocritical for us to cancel the Olympics when China does the same thing. (You could also argue that we imprison political enemies here at home: look at the case of Don Siegelman). If Eliot Spitzer wants to lecture me on the sanctity of marriage, I might choose to ignore him.

    Nor did we invade Iraq to “foster democracy.” George Bush never went to Congress or the public and said that we have to invade Iraq to instill democracy: his argument for invasion was based on the presence of WMD and the putative links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Fostering democracy was used as a casus belli retroactively after the original justification for invasion was found to be bogus.

    I think that American foreign policy ought to promote democracy universally. If this means that the Palestinians elect a Hamas government and the Egyptians overthrow Mubarrak – just as the Pakistanis overthrew Musharraf – then so be it. For us to endorse democracy only when we like the regimes which are elected is hollow. Until we make it known throughout the world that we truly believe that governments should be elected with the consent of those governed, then it is hypocritical for us to insist that others live by standards we don’t apply to ourselves.

    I am not saying that we ought not to apply pressure on China at all. We have many levers to use, but boycotting the Olympics is the wrong one to employ. Moreover, because of its scale and its visibility, it is far from likely to succeed, and (in my view) is highly likely to be counter-productive and possibly disastrous. If the objective is to do something which really helps those in prison and the Tibetans – rather than make a big stink and achieve nothing – then boycotting the Olympics is the wrong way to go.

    Posted April 4, 2008 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says


    While I don’t want to begin a fifty-thousand word rehash of Iraq in this thread, I disagree with you about our motives for Iraq. What George Bush had to say in order to get Congressional approval – and there was every reason to imagine that Iraq was aggressively pusuing WMDs, as the entire intelligence community of the world believed – was far from the only motivation. Anyone who has taken the time to understand the political philosophy of neoconservatism that is usually held accountable for Iraq — rather than just reflexively demonizing it — knows the the central, essential tenet of that system of ideas is the promotion of liberty and the struggle against tyranny.

    I agree with you that American foreign policy ought to promote democracy universally, and that we should no longer be propping up dictators — and consistently with that philosophy, I think pushing back against China is warranted. To say that we must not push back against repressive regime X because we haven’t also pushed back against repressive regime Y, however, is not exactly a practical recipe for brisk progress.

    You may be right that there are more effective tools that we might bring to bear to pressure the Chinese, but there can hardly be a more effective public symbol of the world’s disapproval. What you are saying is that the bully ought to be taken aside privately and persuaded to stop his bullying, to spare his feelings for fear that he will have an unpleasant emotional reaction; I prefer that he be made to feel the sting of public rebuke.

    We seem to be idealistic in different ways. You see it as a moral prerequisite that we knock down all tyrannies at once, or be hypocrites, regardless of whether that is in our practical power, but wish to avoid annoying China for other very practical reasons. My sentiments seems to be rather precisely the opposite: fight tyrannies where and as we can, but certainly do not fawn over them in public.

    Posted April 4, 2008 at 3:15 pm | Permalink
  10. the one eyed man says

    1) “What George Bush had to say in order to get Congressional approval … was far from the only motivation.” So your suggestion is that Bush led us to war without telling us the real reason why we should have gone to war? It’s OK for the President to be disingenuous when trying to persuade Congress to invade another country?

    2) “as the entire intelligence community of the world believed:” well, not Hans Blix, among others.

    3) “To say that we must not push back against repressive regime X because we haven’t also pushed back against repressive regime Y:” that is not what I am saying. I am saying that we “must not push back against repressive regime X” – at least in this way – when we are actively supporting repressive regime Y. Quite a difference between propping up a government and not “pushing back” against them.

    It is certainly not “a moral prerequisite that we knock down all tyrannies at once.” The fact that we cannot cure all of the world’s ills does not mean that we ought not to try to cure any of them. However, it is a moral prerequisite that we not prop up some tyrannies while insisting that all others hew to a standard that we adhere to only when it suits us to do so.

    Posted April 4, 2008 at 3:34 pm | Permalink
  11. JK says


    I tend toward ageeing with your general point-although yesterdays’ “monster” post illustrates vagaries. While it is certainly uncertain as to which of either nation incarcerates the greater percentage (however the percentage is determined) of its’ population. But considering the “age thing” only, of the forever disenfranchised. How shalll we reconcile that our own four year olds find themselves on some list that remains for who knows how long: compares to another nation’s determinate?

    There is the obvious, a couple hundred years ago (quite recent in comparison) the US determined a ballot box means of revolution whereas the Chinese system seems a bit more arbitrary, I suppose. But “arbitrary” is in the eye of the beholder.

    A dungeon is a dungeon of course. However the rose is named by any other name. Whether ” a room in the dungeon” is purchased by either a young adult in an admittedly foreign country or a four year old or an eight year old in a home country, doggone I’m having problems here which I cannot reconcile.

    The Olympics are of course a powerful international symbol. But I wonder.

    I look forward to not only your astute comments on this thread but by others. More often than not I learn from your reader’s comments and want to thank you for your posing such commentary.


    Posted April 4, 2008 at 3:36 pm | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says


    1) No, there were so many good reasons for going to war in Iraq that it was not necessary to make the establishment of democracy — which was going to be an obvious concomitant of ousting Saddam anyway — the principal selling point.

    2) I stand by my earlier remark, Blix notwithstanding.

    3) I would prefer also that we not prop up any tyrannies, anywhere. If democratically elected regimes wish to become our enemies, I’d prefer that we deal with them as such; Hamas is a good example. So at least we can agree on that, I think. This undermines not at all my aversion to honoring China with the Olympics, however.

    I will concede that in practical terms you may be right: I might be putting fidelity to an ideal — that it is morally distasteful to let a regime as harsh as China’s cavort upon the stage with evident global approbation — above what is pragmatically optimal. I think, though, that we are both guilty of that in different ways, as I said above.

    Posted April 4, 2008 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  13. Malcolm says

    Hi JK,

    Well, I certainly hope it was clear that I also do not approve of our taking police action against playful six-year-olds; I do fervently hope that the Western world’s current paroxysm of psychotic “political correctness” will subside.

    Posted April 4, 2008 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  14. JK says

    I recognize that we recognize the “incongruencies.” I figured as much.

    Fortunately, I’ve never had to deal with a felony arrest or insofar as I know, a “felony suspicion.”

    But: when I read your post I did a bit of research and found in at least 7 states mentioned, there are at least 4 sub-ten year olds, according to statute, they shall remain on what is called the “sex-offender list” and shall need to register infinitum.

    Justice is as “justice” does. So too, goofy is as goofy does.


    Posted April 4, 2008 at 4:31 pm | Permalink
  15. Malcolm says

    Well, JK, did they rape someone, or just give a classmate a hug?

    Posted April 4, 2008 at 4:35 pm | Permalink
  16. JK says

    I went back and tried to determine specifically. But since they are juveniles the precise offenses are sealed. In one case, the offense is listed as “imitative behaviour.” I don’t know if the kid got into daddy’s (or mommy’s) porn or picked up something on Wisteria Lane.


    Posted April 5, 2008 at 10:50 am | Permalink
  17. the one eyed man says

    Yesterday, people were arrested in France as they grabbed the Olympic torch and scaled the Eiffel Tower to protest China’s actions in Tibet. Today, people climbed the Golden Gate Bridge to unfurl banners. (Nice day to do it, I might add: sunny and in the sixties here).

    I think that organic and spontaneous protest by individuals is more effective than government sponsored initiatives. I’m sure it is on front pages around the world (except China). If we were to withdraw our athletes, I’m not sure that it would achieve anything which wouldn’t happen anyway.

    I think that the call by Pelosi and Clinton for Bush to avoid the opening ceremony strikes the right note. However, I think the likelihood of this happening is only slightly more than the likelihood of watching me compete in the Master’s Tournament this Sunday.

    Posted April 7, 2008 at 5:33 pm | Permalink
  18. Malcolm says

    Peter, as for the effectiveness of spontaneous protest by individuals, I very much doubt that the Chinese leadership is going to look at some French guy snatching the torch, or banners on the Golden Gate, and smack their foreheads, go “what were we thinking???”, and yank their security forces from Tibet.

    My point was it seemed distasteful for us to honor such a regime with the Olympics. Best of all would have been not to award them to China in the first place.

    But what if the whole world decided not to go? You must admit that might send a message they’d notice. And that’s what I meant in this post when I said it would behoove the “rest of us” not to show up.

    Posted April 7, 2008 at 5:41 pm | Permalink
  19. the one eyed man says

    I’m not sure that it is honoring the Chinese to show up — just as I don’t think we were honoring Hitler in 1936, or other countries were honoring us when the games were in LA and Salt Lake City. The games happen to be held there, and we’re showing up to compete, not to pay tribute to the host country. That’s why I think that having the athletes compete but keeping Bush away from the opening ceremonies is the right thing to do.

    As for the whole world not showing up? I think you’re more likely to see Britney Spears running the World Bank than seeing a concerted effort among nations to boycott the games.

    Posted April 7, 2008 at 6:20 pm | Permalink
  20. Malcolm says

    I disagree. If it weren’t both an honor and a major economic coup to host the Games, nations wouldn’t vie for it with such fervor.

    I’m sure you are right that a global boycott is unlikely. But we are finally getting back to what I originally said in this post, which is that I think it would be a strong message that I’d like to see sent, however unrealistic that hope might be.

    Posted April 7, 2008 at 6:28 pm | Permalink