Bush and Fukuda in La-la Land
US President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda officially announced yesterday that they would attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Beijing on August 8. The reason the two leaders gave for deciding to attend, despite pressure that they refrain from doing so, were somewhat interchangeable — they did not want to “offend” the Chinese people (note the parroting of the oft-used term by Chinese officials) and China had made “some progress, at least in the talks with [Tibetan spiritual leader] the Dalai Lama and “they’re now making an effort.”
What an odd thing to say, given that the same day representatives of the Dalai Lama who have been in talks with Beijing since the deadly crackdown in March were expressing frustration at how little progress has been made, with Chinese officials seen as stonewalling and lacking serious commitment to the process.
Maybe Bush and Fukuda had their geography wrong and meant other developments, such as media freedom, which Beijing had committed to when it made its bid to host the Games.
Not according to the latest Human Rights Watch report on the matter, which says that media control in China has become worse in the past year and that Beijing has failed to lift restrictions on foreign correspondents — especially in the wake of the protests in Tibet in March. From January last year through April this year, more than 200 cases of officials interfering with reporting by foreign correspondents have been reported, HRW said, citing the Beijing-based Foreign Correspondents Club of China.
So things have not improved for foreign correspondents. What about Chinese dissidents and rights activists? As recently as the Sichuan earthquake, a number of activists were locked up for seeking to gain access to “restricted” areas or for criticizing how the government has handled the matter. Some were thrown in jail for trying to help families or for pointing out that a disproportionate number of victims were children who were crushed when the unsafe buildings (mostly schools) they were in at the time of the quake collapsed. Even as the Chinese government was applauded globally for its supposed “openness” during the emergency, it continued to harass and jail individuals who sought to tell a different story.
The search for the “improvements” and “efforts” continues.
As there are no perceivable signs of improvement on the Sudan/Darfur issue, perhaps the positive developments lie in the Taiwan Strait, where since Taiwan’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government came to power on May 20, tensions have lowered, culminating with the July 4 cross-strait charter flights and the arrival in Taiwan of hundreds of Chinese tourists. Surely Bush and Fukuda are elated at the possibility of peace in one of the world’s hottest “hot spots” for the past half-century, with the two sides finally talking to each other and committing to rapprochement.
But the problem is, that commitment appears to be one-sided. As Taipei gives and gives and gives, distancing itself from its traditional allies to please Beijing and opening its civilian airports — some critical to its military — to Chinese aircraft, Beijing has not done anything which would indicate that it is abandoning its plan to annex Taiwan, by force if necessary. In other words, despite Taiwan’s overtures, Beijing has retained the part of its policy on Taiwan that Washington has long characterized as a red line that cannot be crossed. In fact, not only has China not relinquished the military option, but it has continued to modernize its forces, conducted military drills involving civilian aircraft and airborne paratroopers that bore an ominous resemblance to an operation designed to occupy an airport and, as late as last week, it was reportedly deploying modern versions of Russia-made surface-to-air missiles that now brought Taiwanese airspace within range.
Tibet? Strike. Media freedom? Strike. Human rights? Strike. Sudan? Strike. Taiwan? Strike. Which begs the question: What improvements were Bush and Fukuda referring to? Either the leaders have the worst national security teams in the history of international relations, or, more likely, they simply chose to ignore reality to please Beijing, as everybody else does. Soon enough, other world leaders who in the past months have faced pressure from various groups to shun the Games in light of Beijing’s irresponsible behavior domestically and abroad, will have to decide where they want to be on August 8. Chances are, most will be in Beijing, cheering for the wolves in disguise.