To go or not to go?
Beijing 2008: The Netherlands wrestles with opening ceremony boycott. By John Tyler.
In a little more than 100 days, the opening ceremony will kick off the Olympic Games in Beijing. The Chinese crackdown in Tibet in March has led to increasing calls among European countries to make a symbolic gesture of disapproval, such as boycotting the opening ceremonies. But would such a boycott have the intended affect?
A boycott would be a major insult, not only to the Chinese leadership but to the Chinese people as a whole, says former Dutch ambassador in Beijing Dirk-Jan van den Berg:
"Well, if you want to inflict that insult, that's an option we have. But I think for our future work in China on issues like human rights it would be a major, major negative to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games." Mr Van den Berg was among a panel of experts who came to the Dutch parliament on Wednesday to talk about human rights in China in the run-up to the Olympic Games.
Mr Van den Berg says any discussion about a boycott exposes a narrow focus on political freedoms. He urges a longer view, and includes quality-of-life measurements in his own definition of human rights.
He told the MP's at the meeting that human rights in China have greatly improved since the Cultural Revolution and that hundreds of millions of people had been lifted out of poverty thanks to the Chinese economic growth policies. The former ambassador warns against a backlash any form of opening ceremony boycott might bring. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende seems to agree. During a recent press conference, Mr Balkenende said he has every intention of attending the opening ceremonies.
Karien van Gennip is an MP from the Prime Minister's Christian Democrat party. She agrees that Balkenende should be there for the start of the games:
"By announcing today that we're not going to the opening ceremony we will actually slam the door in the face of the Chinese government and that might have an adverse effect in the long term on the human rights situation.” But many in the Dutch opposition aren't so sure.
Hans van Baalen is a member of the conservative VVD party. He says a boycott should remain an option, although he would prefer such a boycott to be coordinated by the European Union. Mr Van Baalen doesn't believe it's counterproductive: "I think that doing nothing (...) that's counterproductive."
In the end, a boycott will be a political decision, something human rights organisations steer clear of. Eduard Nazarski, the director of Amnesty International in the Netherlands, was also at the hearings in parliament. Mr Nazarksi is concerned about human rights in China, and the legacy these games might leave behind.
"I hope that this Olympics will not become known as the Olympics of the oppression of human rights activists, or the crackdown Olympics of every form of criticism and protest. So I hope there will be a positive legacy of the games." Amnesty International won't take a position on a boycott.
[Copyright Radio Netherlands 2008]