Jan 22, 2008

China: Netherlands Rules Out Games Boycott

The Netherlands will send athletes to the 2008 Olympic Games despite widespread concerns about existing human rights abuses in China.

The Netherlands will send athletes to the 2008 Olympic Games despite widespread concerns about existing human rights abuses in China.

Below is an article by Hans Andringa from Radio Netherlands:

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen and the chair of the Dutch Olympic Committee Erica Terpstra say there is no doubt that Dutch athletes will participate in the forthcoming Summer Games in Beijing. The two took part in a round-table discussion in The Hague on Thursday [17 January 2008] on whether sports can be used to draw attention to the issue of human rights.

One of the participants was cabaret artist Erik van Muiswinkel, who at the end of last year wrote an article in De Volkskrant calling on athletes to boycott the Games. According to Mr Van Muiswinkel: “You don’t hold a party while someone is being tortured in the basement.”

The Dutch parliament had asked the Foreign Affairs Ministry to organise the round-table discussion on sports and politics. In a guest article which appeared in de Volkskrant on the same day as the discussion, China’s ambassador to the Netherlands wrote that human rights are a Western affair and that the entire discussion is an insult to the Chinese people.

There was a great deal of interest in the round-table event. There was not enough space to accommodate all the people who showed up to follow the discussions in the Carlton Hotel in The Hague. Activists campaigning for the rights of Tibetans and followers of the outlawed spiritual movement Falun Gong favour a boycott of the Games. They believe that this would send a strong message to Beijing.

The director of the Dutch chapter of Amnesty International, Eduard Nazarski, emphasised that there has been an increase in human rights violations in China. He says that dissidents who ask difficult questions are being arrested and there are now 500,000 people in jail without being charged.

However he did not come to The Hague to call for a boycott. Amnesty wants to take advantage of the fact that the world’s attention is focused on China during the Games. “We will ask that people think about the violation of the rights of Chinese citizens.

Minister Verhagen also hopes that the Games will increase China’s sensitivity to human rights issues. He believes that the authorities in Beijing are coming to understand that the Games are more than an impressive stadium and a lot of medals. He thinks the media attention and the arrival of so many people will help open the country to discussions about human rights.

However Jan van der Putten, a former correspondent in China, says Beijing is thinking about another scenario altogether: that the Olympic Games symbolise China’s return as a world power. Which means that no one should be allowed to spoil things and those who do should be arrested and put away. Van der Putten says it’s true that China considers human rights as something Western. “In the West the individual is important and in China only the state counts.”

Officials at the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Sports Ministry admit that China has a lot to do in the field of human rights. However they say that a sports boycott would have little effect.

The chair of the Dutch Olympic Committee, Erica Terpstra, is also opposed to a boycott. She says, "[it would not be fair] to tell athletes who have trained themselves silly for eight to ten years that they can’t attend a few months before the Games begin.”  She says that past boycotts have had little effect.