snub By Antoaneta Bezlova
BEIJING - For image-conscious China, the
public snub by Oscar-winning director Steven
Spielberg, withdrawing involvement with the
Beijing Summer Olympic Games to protest the
country's perceived indifference to the Darfur
crisis in Africa, is seen as a setback to
painstaking efforts to stage the perfect
Spielberg's talents to help orchestrate the
opening and closing ceremonies of the Games,
Beijing was left deeply uncomfortable when the
director abandoned his role this week, saying the
country was not doing enough to help end violence
"Sudan's government bears the
bulk of the responsibility for these
ongoing crimes but the
international community and particularly China,
should be doing more to end the continuing human
suffering," the director said in a statement.
In Beijing, the announcement by Spielberg
was met with official silence coupled with a
blackout on news regarding the pullout both in the
sanctioned print media and the semi-official
Chinese leaders regard the
Games as a symbolic endorsement of their country's
growing global clout but do not relish the
intensified scrutiny of their domestic and
international record that go with the games.
International activists have mounted a
campaign to spotlight the communist regime's
record and called for a boycott of the Olympics if
Beijing does not live up to its promises for an
improved human rights climate and total press
freedom before and during the Games.
bidding for the Games in 2001, China pledged to
the International Olympic Committee members that
the Olympics would serve to enhance the rights
situation, but many monitoring groups claim
Beijing has failed to keep its promises.
Reporters Without Borders says about 80
journalists and Internet users are currently
imprisoned in China and censorship has intensified
as the Games are drawing nearer. Rights activists
say that preparations for the Olympics have in
fact led to an intensified crackdown on dissent
and human rights defenders.
security officials have warned against any
protests in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics. Liu
Shaowu, deputy head of security for the Games, has
vowed to punish anyone who takes part in a
political, religious or ethnic demonstration "in
any form" at an Olympic site during the Games.
"This is our commitment to make sure we
have a harmonious Olympics," Liu told the press
during the unveiling of a new indoor stadium in
"The whole world is
watching China in the run up to the Games, and
heavy-handed tactics to suppress independent
voices will create precisely the image Beijing
does not want," Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy
director for Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a
statement. "China runs a serious risk of
tarnishing its reputation and the legacy of the
The China pressure campaign has
aligned global rights lobbies like HRW and Amnesty
International, as well as journalism advocacy
organizations, along with Hollywood celebrities
and Nobel Prize winners. The spotlight is as much
on China's internal human rights record as on its
increasing clout abroad.
A host of
prominent figures urged China's President Hu
Jintao this week to use Beijing's special
influence with Sudan and pressure it to end
atrocities in Darfur. China holds sway over
Khartoum because it buys two-thirds of the
country's oil exports and provides military and
diplomatic support for the regime.
primary economic, military and political partner
of the government of Sudan, and as a permanent
member of the United Nations Security Council,
China has both the opportunity and the
responsibility to contribute to a just peace in
Darfur," they said in a joint letter.
Among the 25 signatories, who included
Olympic athletes, writers and actors from around
the world, were also South Africa's Archbishop
Desmond Tutu and Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi -
both Nobel Peace Prize winners.
comes at a time of renewed fighting in the ravaged
western region of Darfur. Thousands of refugees
have fled to neighboring Chad escaping attacks by
Arab militiamen, joining the 240,000 Sudanese
refugees already there and posing more challenges
to an already overstretched aid operation.
The conflict engulfing the region first
came to the world's attention in 2003 when the
Arab-dominated government of Sudan unleashed Arab
tribal militias on non-Arab rebel groups in
Darfur. Darfur rebels seek greater autonomy and a
larger share of Sudan's wealth. In all at least
200,000 people have been killed in Darfur,
according to humanitarian agencies and 2.5 million
have been driven from their homes.
recent months the crisis has spilled over to
Sudan's western neighbor Chad. Sudan is accused of
backing rebels who sought to overthrow President
Idriss Deby of Chad last week because of the
presence of huge numbers of Sudanese refugees on
China is Sudan's
primary backer and has growing oil and commercial
interests in Chad but Beijing has shied away from
interfering to restore peace in the region.
Chinese diplomats and experts blame poverty and
the lack of economic growth for the strife. They
have repeatedly warned against politicizing the
"Those who want to use the
Olympics to discredit China, and those who think
the Olympics will promote China to change in the
way they hope, are doomed to be disappointed,"
said an editorial in the People's Daily, the
communist party's flagship earlier this month.