Despite continual criticism by various human rights organizations of widespread human rights abuses in China, which was a factor in China’s lost 2000 Olympic bid, Beijing was able to beat out its main competitors, Toronto and Paris, in its bid to host the 2008 Olympics. Recognizing the importance of China’s involvement in world affairs and its growing economic prowess, various human rights organizations, some dissidents, and even Taiwan felt that the bid would open up China to the world and, consequently, supported it.
Human Rights Watch, the largest human rights organization in the United States, recognizes China’s abysmal human rights record, but at the same time stated that the “2008 Beijing Olympics will provide an opportunity for China to come into compliance with international legal standards that protect human rights.” But according to the International Olympic Committee, 2008 was simply time for an Asian country to host the games, and Beijing showed true commitment and enthusiasm for hosting the Olympics.
For the 2008 Olympics, Beijing has focused on three main principles: “Green Games,” “High-tech Games,” and the “People’s Games”—themes that show off China’s new environmental attitudes, entrance to modernity, and the continual strength of the Communist Party of China (CPC) as a ruling entity. According to Du Zhanyuan, an official with China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, almost 1.3 billion yuan (US$157 million) of government funds and 1.8 billion yuan (US$217 million) from companies have been channeled into 449 science and technology projects in hopes of integrating the latest technological innovations from China and abroad for the 2008 Olympics.
In its efforts to make the 2008 Olympics the “Green Games,” China has promised that all Olympic venues and structures will be built according to strict environmental standards. To reduce Beijing’s serious smog and pollution problems, China has also moved many factories outside of the city and has begun to improve the city’s transportation infrastructure to reduce traffic congestion. Over US$37 billion have been used to improve Beijing’s infrastructure and environment for the 2008 Games, and over US$2 billion for Olympic venues.
In China’s enthusiasm to create “High-tech Games” and “Green Games,” the “People’s Games” have been visibly forgotten. The Olympics have been used as a justification for acts against basic human and property rights. In constructing new venues and in completely remaking the landscape of Beijing to beautify the city and make it more environmentally friendly, many people have found their homes unexpectedly demolished or have been forcibly evicted and dislocated, according to a 2004 Human Rights Watch report. Hundreds of thousands of Beijing residents lost their homes with little to no legal recourse.
Though forced evictions and destruction of homes by the CPC officials in the name of modernization is hardly a new phenomenon, the importance of giving Beijing a “face-lift” before the 2008 Olympic Games has accelerated and exasperated these forced evictions. However, international attention on China’s preparations for the 2008 Olympics has shed light on these human rights abuses.
For China, the 2008 Olympics is a matter of prestige and pride. However, it has brought about more international scrutiny, making China accountable for its actions in preparation for the games. The Olympics will be a huge publicity campaign for China, showing the world China’s new status in world affairs. Not only will the city, the city’s structures, and its people be broadcast around the world, but thousands of foreigners and journalists will enter the city in 2008. The Olympics’ success could be a symbol of modernity, national pride, and hope for the Chinese people. But China still has to correct its many obvious human rights abuses before it can truly make a triumphant Olympic appearance on the world stage. The ultimate effect of the 2008 Olympics has yet to be understood. The games may very well lead to a more open and democratic China, reveal the severity and handicaps of the CPC, be a hugely successful publicity stunt, or just be a spectacular show—the best that China has to offer.