Threatening to boycott the Beijing Olympics may sound like a good (if not desperate) proposition to pressure China to prevail over Myanmar. We all agree that if anyone can push the Myanmar junta to stop persecuting the monks and students, it will be China. Beijing has propped up the country economically for years while the junta has defied one international condemnation or embargo after another for its appalling human rights record.
The trouble with this boycott proposal is that countries will have to carry out the threat if China decides to call the bluff. Is the rest of the world (the West) really prepared to sit out the Olympics next year? Are we then not defying the spirit of the Olympics itself?
The United States led a boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow for the latter’s occupation of Afghanistan. But many athletes from the West (with the exception of Americans) still participated in the event, parading not under the flag of their own nations but under the Olympic flag.
Jimmy Carter’s threat to boycott the Olympics did not force the Soviet Union to end its occupation of Afghanistan; the sports fiesta went on as planned (without the participation of some of the world’s top athletes). Many new world records were set.
Moscow called the bluff. The threat and the subsequent boycott failed to achieve the intended results. That is a lesson on the (in)effectiveness of an Olympic boycott.
China is not known to be a country that bows to international pressure. Granted, the Olympics will be an important event for Beijing to showcase the country’s impressive leap to modernization, particularly in the economic sector. (Politically, the country is still ruled under an authoritarian communist regime.)
There is a strong degree of unpredictability about how China would react to threats of an Olympic boycott. But my money is on China defying such a threat. After all, China is not the real culprit behind Myanmar’s human rights violations. While threatening to boycott the Olympics may sound like a good idea, I don’t think it is worth the price to pay to actually go ahead with the boycott. We have to find other means of pressuring China. A quiet diplomacy, one involving behind-the-scenes negotiations, is more to the liking of Beijing and to Myanmar.
Politics should be kept out of the Olympics.
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