President Bush’s announcement that he will attend the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics came in the wake of brutal crackdowns in Tibet and during a week when seven peacekeepers were murdered in the Darfur region of Sudan, where China continues to underwrite the carnage.
It also came at a moment when a growing group of U.S. and international politicians have taken a stand by eschewing the opening ceremonies — the only component of the Games geared not toward celebrating the athletes but entirely toward burnishing the Beijing regime’s political image. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper were joined recently by European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering in deciding not to attend. Barack Obama and John McCain have indicated that if they were president they would not attend unless they saw a significant improvement in China’s human rights record.
Bush has squandered an enormous opportunity. Beijing has been notoriously indifferent to traditional diplomatic pressure, but it has leaped into action to protect the Games. Early efforts by human rights activists to link Darfur to the Games prompted Beijing to hastily appoint an envoy to the region, to soften its veto threats on the U.N. Security Council and, most significantly, to sign last year’s U.N. resolution authorizing a protection force for Darfur.