The International Olympic Committee’s narrow rejection of Beijing’s bid to host the Olympics in the year 2000 demonstrates that, despite its efforts, China has so far failed to erase the stigma of its military repression of pro-democracy demonstrations at Tian An Men Square four years ago.
When former President Richard Nixon criticized the Tian An Men Square crackdown during a trip to Beijing in the fall of 1989, Foreign Minister Qian Qichen brushed off the complaint. He noted that no more than 20 countries in the world had condemned China for the massacre--which left hundreds dead.
“And what 20 countries are those?” Nixon shot back, according to a source with direct knowledge of the conversation. Nixon was underscoring the point that the list included virtually all the countries with the greatest economic and political clout, including the United States and most of the leading European powers.
China’s failed Olympic bid suggests that its efforts to regain full international legitimacy by lining up Third World support while thumbing its nose at the West, was a difficult, if not impossible, political strategy.
Of course, politics was probably not the only factor underlying the IOC decision. Other nonpolitical reasons no doubt contributed to China’s failure to land the Games. When it comes to facilities, logistics and sheer aesthetics, Beijing had trouble matching Sydney’s bid.
Sydney is one of the world’s prettiest cities, while Beijing, despite more than a century of development and countless improvements, still retains traces of the old town of which Capt. Charles George Gordon of imperial Britain’s Royal Engineers wrote in 1860: “I am sure one ride through its filthy streets ought to content any enthusiast.”
Yet given the intensity of international competition for the Olympic site, it is hard to believe politics did not matter. China launched an international diplomatic campaign to win the Games, while critics of the Beijing regime countered with denunciations of China’s human rights record.
The House of Representatives last summer passed a resolution that opposed awarding the Olympics to Beijing, and 60 U.S. senators signed a letter by Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) denouncing Beijing’s candidacy. The European Parliament also opposed Beijing’s Olympic bid.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Warren Christopher emphasized once again that the United States had been officially neutral, saying, “The United States has not taken a position.”
But he also acknowledged that America believes the issue of human rights is a legitimate one in choosing an Olympic site and said U.S. officials had forwarded to the IOC information on human rights records of all the countries seeking the Olympics. Not surprisingly, in the State Department human rights reports, Australia fares far better than China.
In the four years since the Beijing massacre, China has eased its political repression and rapidly opened its booming economy. But Beijing has remained officially unapologetic about the episode. China’s Communist Party leadership has shown no willingness to tolerate open political dissent, and its government is still headed by Premier Li Peng, who was among the leaders responsible for imposing martial-law and calling troops and tanks into Beijing to quell the demonstrations.
“The closed China of the past has now opened its doors,” asserted Beijing’s hard-line ex-Mayor Chen Xitong, another architect of the Tian An Men repression, who was in Monte Carlo on Thursday as chairman of Beijing’s Olympic Committee. “We fervently want to know more about the world and to have more friends in the world know about us. Hosting the 2000 Games will open our door still wider.”
In the wake of China’s defeat in Monte Carlo, some Chinese almost certainly will blame the United States. Earlier this week, some Chinese commentators contended that the United States had spearheaded a campaign against Beijing through a series of seemingly unrelated complaints about China’s arms exports and human rights policies.
“To try to discredit China before the Olympic Committee members . . . required orchestration,” asserted T. S. Lo in a recent article in Mirror, a pro-Chinese weekly in Hong Kong. “So America got busy. . . . There is no logic to America’s desperation to stop China from holding the Olympics.”
Over the past four decades, China has sometimes put itself forward as the leader of a group of poor and developing nations of Asia, Africa and South America. But the nations of the Third World have rarely lined up solidly behind Beijing and in opposition to the West--if only because China also has often shown itself to be a regional power that cares more about its relationships with Japan, the United States and the European Community than it does about ties with some small nations.
Times staff writer Rone Tempest in Beijing contributed to this report.