Spielberg, Sudan, and the "Genocide Olympics"

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 2/15/2008 02:34:00 AM
It seems that Steven Spielberg has been taken aback by the Chinese ruling regime's indifference to his efforts to prod it on Sudan. It seems this authoritarian regime is too Jurassic for Spielberg's liking. So, he has quit his role as an adviser to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This, of course, is partly the culmination of Mia Farrow's efforts to get Spielberg to quit working on what she has called the "Genocide Olympics." I have covered the Farrow angle elsewhere [1, 2, 3, 4]. What remains notable is China's continuing wish to sweep Tibet, Sudan, human rights, press freedom etc. under the carpet as "politics." In the dialogue of Chinese officials, as far as I can gather, politics is anything distateful that will ruin China's Olympics. In its eyes, the Olympics is the coming out party of the PRC onto the world stage. If I were a human rights campaigner, I would absolutely use the Olympics as a maximum visibility stage to get my points across. It's too bad the Chinese have taken a largely oppositional stance here that will likely continue to dog it when the Games actually begin. File this one under the Than Shwe School of PR. From the International Herald Tribune comes this snippet:
The movie director Steven Spielberg has said he is withdrawing as an artistic adviser to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing after almost a year of trying unsuccessfully to prod President Hu Jintao to do more to try to end Sudan's attacks in the Darfur region.

Spielberg's decision, and the public way he announced it Tuesday, was a blow to China, which has said that its relationship with Sudan should not be linked to the Olympics, which have become a source of national pride.

In a statement sent to the Chinese ambassador and the Beijing Olympic committee on Tuesday, Spielberg said that his "conscience will not allow me to continue with business as usual."

"Sudan's government bears the bulk of the responsibility for these ongoing crimes but the international community, and particularly China, should be doing more to end the continuing human suffering there," the statement said. "China's economic, military and diplomatic ties to the government of Sudan continue to provide it with the opportunity and obligation to press for change."

Responding to Spielberg's action, a spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in Washington said, "As the Darfur issue is neither an internal issue of China nor is it caused by China, it is completely unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair to link the two as one." Officials in Beijing did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Spielberg had written to Hu about Darfur twice in the past 10 months, his spokesman said, taking China to task for its "silence" while Sudan blocked the deployment of international peacekeepers and expelled aid workers from the region.

In September, Spielberg also met with China's special envoy to Darfur at the Chinese mission to the United Nations, said Spielberg's spokesman, Andy Spahn.

None of those efforts yielded the results Spielberg wanted, Spahn said. In the meantime, Spielberg had come under increasing pressure from activists working on Darfur, including a campaign by the actress Mia Farrow, to drop his association with the Beijing Olympics.

After receiving word that Spielberg had done just that, Farrow was jubilant.

"His voice and all of the moral authority it gives, used this way, brings a shred of hope to Darfur, and God knows, rations of hope are meager at this time," said Farrow, a good-will ambassador for Unicef who helped start a campaign last year to label the games in Beijing the "Genocide Olympics."

The actor Don Cheadle, a co-founder of Not On Our Watch, a Darfur advocacy group, said he hoped that Spielberg's actions would force China to rethink its position. "One guy like Steven in a position like that is like 100 other guys," he said. "Those are the kinds of moves, that if they catch fire, and other people think of boycotting, or refraining, the cumulative effect could be something that potentially could change the calculation of that government."

From TIME, the Chinese added this:

China is blaming activists with "ulterior motives" for linking the Beijing Olympics to the nation's involvement in Sudan, with top officials saying they shared concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Darfur...

China is believed to have influence over the Islamic regime because it buys two-thirds of the country's oil exports while selling it weapons and defending it in the United Nations.

In their first response to Spielberg's announcement, Games organizers said his decision would not affect planning for the opening and closing ceremonies, adding: "We express our regret over his recent personal statement."

"The Chinese government has made unremitting efforts to resolve the Darfur issue, an obvious fact to the international community which holds unprejudiced opinions on this issue," the organizers, known as BOCOG, said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.

"Linking the Darfur issue to the Olympic Games will not help to resolve this issue and is not in line with the Olympic Spirit that separates sports from politics," BOCOG said.

China is on the defensive against critics using the Games to spotlight the communist regime's curbs on human rights, press freedoms, and religion.

"It is understandable if some people do not understand the Chinese government policy on Darfur," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said. "But I am afraid that some people may have ulterior motives, and this we cannot accept."

Liu said China was working with the United Nations to resolve the Darfur crisis.

"China is also concerned about the humanitarian crisis there, but we have been playing a positive and constructive role in promoting peace in Darfur," he said.

Liu said China supported a hybrid African Union and United Nations force to patrol Darfur.

"This did not come easily and our efforts have been applauded by the international community," Liu said.

Liu said 140 Chinese engineers helped prepare the hybrid force and Chinese companies in Sudan had helped dig wells and build small-scale power plants in Darfur.

"On the issue of Darfur, empty rhetoric will not help," Liu said. "What is more important is to do more things to help with the peace process there and alleviate the humanitarian crisis..."