Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Beijing Olympics: Excitment and Concern

The Beijing Olympics are right around the corner. It will be interesting to see how Human Rights groups and leaders of faith handle this delicate drama. I keep thinking about China’s unwillingness to use its considerable influence to stop the killing in Darfur or to influence Burma’s polices toward its own people. China’s heavy handed policies in Tibet have also drawn criticism from many around the world.

While I favor a boycott of the Olympics it is clear that will not happen. I am actually not anti-China. China will be one of the most important nations in the world for the remainder of this century. It has a rich and long history and it is a nation of dreams. I also believe sports are far less important than human rights and this summer was an important opportunity to exert pressure on China to be a real leader in the world and not simply an economic power. Bush has made it clear that China is more important than the suffering of the people of Darfur, Burma and Tibet.

Still, life is grey not black and white. I am excited about the pageantry of the Olympics and the pure amazement of world class athletes. I also love the symbolism of countries competing with one another in peaceful ways.

So what messages are coming out of China at this time? It is a mixed result. China is proud and has tried to control the news coming out of the earthquake stricken provinces. That reminds me of our reluctance to initially accept international help after Katrina.

Two priests outside of Beijing who are members of the “underground Catholic Church” or the church in compliance with the Vatican are reported missing. One hopes they are simply being detained until after the Games. That is not OK but it is better than other possible scenarios.

The Vatican and China are hardly one dimensional in their developing relationship. Talks, overtures and Catholic enthusiasm to aid earthquake victims have marked a slow but steady improvement in Vatican-China relations.

Amnesty International’s newest report states that human rights violations have actually increased in China. Congress has called on President Bush to address Human Rights with the Chinese when he attends the Games. In reality I don’t know too many nations that can go to the Games without bringing with them a recent history of Human Rights violations. The War on Terror has resulted in many nations participating in behaviors they would not have imagined only ten years ago. I am not minimizing China’s record, I am simply not trying to make the rest of us look like we are pure as the driven snow, we are not.

So what will I do during the Games? I will probably watch commentaries on the political scene in China. I may watch some of the Olympics. I will certainly pray for China, the athletes and a safe Olympics. I will stand in wonder of what the human body can do. I will give thanks for the dream of what the Olympics are supposed to be.

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