Activists press China with 'Genocide Olympics' label

Actress-activist Mia Farrow is leading a 'shaming campaign' to tie Beijing's support for Sudan to the 2008 Summer Olympics.

It all started with a petite blonde in a fury. Horrified by the violence she saw on trips to Darfur, and angry with what she perceived to be China's complacency on the issue, movie-star-turned-UNICEF-goodwill-ambassador Mia Farrow sent off a fuming op-ed piece to The Wall Street Journal in March. "These are the Genocide Olympics," she protested, in reference to the upcoming 2008 Games in Beijing. "China is funding the first genocide of the third millennium."

Smith College professor Eric Reeves, an activist who, together with Farrow, spearheaded the "shaming campaign" in which the Games are being branded as the "Genocide Olympics," says the Chinese will only be pressured to act in Darfur by appealing to its sense of national pride and honor and hitting them where it hurts most this year.

"They need to choose between the lucrative relationship with Khartoum and having their coveted Games lumped in the collective consciousness with Nazi Germany's hosting of the Berlin Games in 1936," Mr. Reeves says. The idea, he adds, is not to boycott the Games – as that would only end up punishing innocent athletes and making China seem like a sympathetic victim – but rather to "hold China's feet to the fire."

Soon, Steven Spielberg, who has signed on as one of the Beijing Olympics' "artistic advisers" found himself being drawn into the fray. Mr. Spielberg could "go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games," Ms. Farrow had charged, referring to the German filmmaker considered by many a Nazi sympathizer and propagandist for those 1936 Olympics.

America's favorite director quickly flew into action, shooting off a private letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao. "I add my voice to those who ask that China change its policy toward Sudan," he stated. "China is uniquely positioned ... and has considerable influence in the region that could lead efforts by the international community to bring an end to the human suffering there."

A month later, in May, Congress jumped on the bandwagon when a group of 108 members sent a letter to the Chinese government warning that the Beijing Olympics could be endangered if China did not change its policies in Sudan.

The National Basketball Association was not far behind. Led by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Ira Newble – who, on the road with the Cavs in March, had read a profile of Reeves in the newspaper — various players across the league united to create a "Dream Team of Conscience." The group soon released its own open letter to the Government of China and the International Olympic Committee:

"We, as basketball players in the NBA and as potential athletes in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, cannot look on with indifference to the massive human suffering and destruction that continue in the Darfur region of Sudan."

Meanwhile, at a press conference last week, the Save Darfur coalition, together with Reeves, Farrow, Newble, and others announced the launch of a series of further actions to shame China, including a faux Olympic torch relay through countries that define the history of genocide. The relay will start on Aug. 8, 2007 on the Darfur-Chad border and travel through Rwanda, Armenia, Bosnia, Germany, and Cambodia. The relay will end in Hong Kong and will coincide with mass rallies at Chinese embassies around the world.

China, in response, has denounced these efforts to link the games with its foreign policy, saying such a campaign runs counter to the Olympic spirit.

"There are a handful of people who are trying to politicize the Olympic Games," Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told reporters, stressing that the Games are a time to celebrate friendly ties between nations. "This is against the spirit of the Games. It also runs counter to the aspirations of all the people in the world."

But protestations aside, it seems someone in Beijing is listening. Shortly after Farrow's op-ed appeared, China appointed a special envoy to Darfur and reportedly stepped up efforts to persuade Khartoum to accept international peacekeepers in Darfur.

Pressure over the Olympics could help cause a shift from China's noninterference policy, says Reeves. "To date, what we've seen are largely cosmetic efforts, trying to 'respond to Darfur' on the cheap ... but as shame and dismay intensify, as the pain grows, we'll see a good deal more than cosmetics."

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