Since China was selected to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, there has been large-scale public outcry over the actions of the People’s Republic of China with regards to human rights. Most recently, the beginning of the Olympic Torch Relay has been made into a platform for human rights activists, the most vocal of whom have criticized the PRC for its treatment of the Chinese province of Tibet. Many Americans, spurred by the media, have hastily taken stances on the issue. However, it is important to realize that this issue is extremely complex and warrants a high amount of examination before an informed decision can or should be made.

The Olympics have long stood as a symbol of unity, despite having been tarnished at times by international conflict (Moscow) or by terrorism (Munich); the Olympics have been mostly free of these problems since the 1980s. It would be a shame for these Olympics to start a trend of boycott and protest, especially when there are so many alternatives. The Olympics do not deserve to be turned into an arena for social activism and political debate. The host countries invest time and money into the event, and the hosting of the Olympics is a source of great pride for their citizens. It should not be the case that people choosing to campaign on the behalf of Tibet should select Beijing or the relay as a place to make their voice heard.

There are plenty of alternative places, other than the Olympics, in which to protest. The House of Representatives recently passed a resolution slamming China for its treatment of Tibet, especially regarding the recent uprising. That is a good place for protest because it is a legal and diplomatic way to influence people or governments. Trying to grab the Olympic torch from innocent athletes (thanks, France) who are extremely proud and thankful to carry the torch, is an awful way to protest Chinese control of Tibet. Doesn’t it seem somewhat hypocritical to protest the suppression of Tibetan civilians by targeting innocent people involved in the torch relay? Activists should consider means of protest and especially the people adversely affected by these methods if their protests are to be taken seriously.

Many protesters argue that the Olympics are a perfect place to shed light on the actions of China. They claim that leaders skipping ceremonies would embarrass China and show a true commitment to opposing alleged human rights violations by the PRC. However, what is confusing to some skeptics is why the representation of the American people can undermine China while continuing to allow the U.S. economy to rely so heavily on China. Economic sanctions or boycotts could be more effective, but the adverse effects on our recently declining economy would be a steep price to pay.

But shouldn’t protesters or activists be willing to make a sacrifice? If they feel so strongly about events in Tibet, they should be willing to take actions equivalent to the magnitude of how important it is to them. By interfering with the Olympics, protesters have passed this sacrifice onto athletes, event organizers and the people of China, which is a shame. These athletes have been preparing for years to perform on an international stage. For some, it may be their only chance and, for others, their only chance while performing in their prime. Protesting the Olympics hurts these people, who should be left out of any international conflicts. If world leaders’ boycotts and relay protests continue, the legacy of the 2008 Beijing Olympics will be smeared, and it will be difficult to separate athletes’ achievements from the unwanted political aspect.

Olympics aside, is the United States even in a good position to antagonize China for their treatment of Tibet? Tibet has been under Chinese control for over 50 years, and it is likely that a number of parallels could be made between Tibet and other nonsovereign regions the U.S. and western media conveniently forget about. The U.S. doesn’t exactly have the cleanest human rights record – the Iraq War and Guantanamo Bay, to name a few. The world’s economic dependence on China also reduces leverage on China. Is heavy U.S. involvement in protest practical? Even possible? This question has not yet been answered, and until then, the Olympics must be left alone to the athletes and to the people who wish to enjoy the Olympics.

This article provides only a cursory analysis of the situation regarding the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the PRC’s relations with Tibet. Ideally, Americans and other westerners will consider this complicated issue carefully before they attempt to ruin an amazing achievement of human civilization. Hopefully, in the upcoming months, Americans will learn more about the situation and take appropriate actions if they feel strongly enough.

Matthews is a member ofthe class of 2010.

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