China's Olympic Bid

September 17, 1993

"A More Open China Awaits the 2000 Olympic Games." So say the posters and signboards all over Beijing. The slogan is a tacit admission that we have known a less open China. But this week the more open China is opening its jails to let out some political prisoners (though one remains in police sequestration after his release, if that makes sense). It's all part of the public-relations campaign by which China hopes to lure the Olympics and bolster its international prestige. The choice will be made next Thursday. Five cities have made formal bids for the games, but the front-runners are thought to be Beijing and Sydney, Australia.

We hope the International Olympic Committee chooses Sydney. China is indeed becoming more open, but most of this progress has to do with economic reform. That's important, and to encourage this evolution we backed the Clinton administration in extending China's most-favored-nation trade status. Staging the Olympics is different.

We have often argued that politics is politics and sports is sports and the two should not be confused. For that reason, we don't think China should be barred from Olympic competition, or that Western countries should boycott the Games if China stages them. But the award of an Olympic venue has political import.

Japan in 1964, West Germany in 1972, Moscow in 1980, and even South Korea in 1988 all used their Olympic Games to make the larger point that they were now rehabilitated and respectable countries. And Adolf Hitler treated the Berlin Olympics of 1936 as a showcase for Nazism. China's hope is to use the Olympics to signal its diplomatic recovery from the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

We welcome China's desire to end its isolation. Its Olympic bid comes at a time when Chinese women are thrilling the world with seemingly impossible feats of distance running. Over a six-day period, Wang Junxia broke four world records in three events -- and did it with ridiculous ease, with 42 seconds to spare, in one case.

But international respect is not given for the asking; it must be earned. We do not insist that China adopt a Western-tailored Bill of Rights complete with Miranda warnings and a sexual-harassment code. But when a country countenances the torture of Roman Catholic priests, when it locks up political dissidents with diseased cellmates so that they, too, may become ill, then other nations have a duty to say, "We won't play in your yard."

Perhaps in four years' time China's human-rights record will improve. We will happily second Beijing's bid when it can be made under the slogan, "A Fully Open China Awaits the 2004 Olympic Games."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.