Olympic Boycott

Hillary Clinton says George W. Bush should boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Steve Clemons says she’s wrong. In the real world, can anyone imagine this making a difference either way, either to US-China relations or to the PRC’s human rights conduct? I can’t. If we actually tried to ruin the olympics by withdrawing our athletes and trying to get other countries to do the same, that might at least hurt someone’s feelings, but it hardly seems worth debating the merits of doing something totally trivial.

Still, in retrospect I really do wish they hadn’t given the Olympics to China. It would have been much better to award the games to some other city, for the official rationale to just be that the other city was better on the merits, but then for off-the-record there to be some suggestion in the press that China’s authoritarian politics might have played a role. Not that the IOC thinks there should be political criteria! On the contrary, IOC members were so eager to avoid politicizing the games that some shied away from the idea of an inevitably-controversial Beijing Olympics.

It’s clearly not viable to have a formal “no human rights abusers shall host the Olympics” rule, but it couldn’t hurt for the world’s democracies to signal, informally, that a more rights-respecting government would help China achieve the sort of recognition as a great power that it’s looking for. But now that the schedule’s already been set, it’s hard to see any protests as doing anything other than showing how ineffectual the west is in its efforts to prod China to change.