How will Olympics affect Chinese human rights?

With less than a year until the 2008 summer Olympics in China, you might think the Chinese government – with a troubled history of human rights abuses – would be cleaning up its act in preparation for the global spotlight.But John Kennedy, an assistant professor of political science at Kansas University who specializes in China, says the pressure that spotlight will create might actually make things worse in the Communist country in the next year.”I expect institutional setbacks up and until the Olympics,” Kennedy says. In his mind, the two biggest human-rights issues in China are:¢ Arbitrary arrests, especially for those who have been part of protests.”It’s not no rule of law, and it’s not complete rule of law,” Kennedy says. “It’s somewhere in the middle. It’s a combination of regulations and relationships.” In a country as large as the 1.3-billion-population China, vague national laws have led to inconsistent application at the local level, Kennedy says. In some areas, bribing officials might be necessary to help the law enforcement process, while it might not be applicable in other areas.!¢ Freedom of the press.Again, Kennedy says, there are inconsistencies here. China’s state-run press has obvious limits on what it can report, and the Foreign Correspondents Club of China has documented 157 incidents of intimidation of sources, detentions, surveillance, official reprimands and violence in the first six months of 2007. Also, China has limits on what Web sites its residents can visit.At the same time, Kennedy notes, unedited human rights reports, Bibles and the Quran are available – unedited – in bookstores.Kennedy expects China to focus a little more on image control than actual human rights measures in the next year. He notes that the government recently passed new labor laws supporting migrant workers helping to build new Olympic stadiums (such as the one above), and also approved laws to allow citizens to sue government officials. But, he says, it’s unclear what practical impact those changes might have.The news isn’t all bad. Kennedy says he thinks, in general, human rights issues are better in China now than they have been in the past.”The Chinese government has been this, ‘Two steps forward, one step back,'” Kennedy says. “You can’t compare China now with the U.S. You have to compare China now and 10 years ago. And most people admit their freedoms – both economic and social – are much greater than they were 10 years ago.”Lawrence resident Cat Rooney will be keeping a close eye on the Olympic preparations in China, as well.She’s part of a local group that practices Falun Gong, a form of exercise and meditation.Human Rights Watch and other organizations have said the Chinese government is attempting to crack down on Chinese practitioners of Falun Gong because it’s an organized group that isn’t under the umbrella of the Chinese Communist Party.They claim members have been killed, imprisoned and tortured, including having organs harvested while they were still alive.Rooney describes her reaction in 2001 when she discovered China would host the Olympics: “I couldn’t imagine how the International Olympic Committee could hold the Chinese Communist Party to their promise to improve human rights after designating them host country of the Olympics.”She says it seems as if China “was pretty much going to be rewarded for its crimes against humanity.”At least, she says, the Olympics provide a platform for a global discussion on human rights in China. But she says measuring the true progress in the country will need to go more deeply than the on-the-surface media coverage that might be provided during the Olympics.”The Chinese Communist Party is a master of image manipulation,” Rooney says. “So it is going to pull out its bag of tricks to make it look like it is cleaning up its act or to deflect the real issues at hand.”_ – Faith Files, which examines issues of faith, spirituality, morals and ethics, is updated by features/faith reporter Terry Rombeck. Have an idea for the blog? Contact Terry at, or 832-7145._