The U.S. was never going to boycott the Beijing Olympics, and that’s a sensible restraint on the part of our leaders.
This isn’t to say that China merits its host status or our participation–it doesn’t. The People’s Republic is a menace to human rights, both within and without its far-flung borders. Today’s China, uniquely it seems, combines the worst elements of Gilded Age-style capitalism and the Maoist command economy. Religious oppression, eugenics, a sham legal system, environmental neglect, one-party rule, imperialism–take your pick of totalitarian excesses, and China’s probably indulging in it at this moment.
With all that said, it makes no sense, from a geopolitical standpoint, for the U.S. to provoke China. And the Chinese, who have invested incalculable amounts of money and national pride in the Beijing games, would see a U.S. boycott as a grave provocation. We can’t afford that. The U.S. has a complicated and intertwined relationship with the communist nation, and it’s one that’s going to grow only more complicated and intertwined as time goes by.
First are the economic considerations. The U.S. is a debtor nation and one that depends heavily upon foreign lending from China. In fact, only Japan at present owns more U.S. treasury bills than China, and China is catching up posthaste. Needless to say, this gives the Chinese central bank a great deal of power over the U.S. economy. If sufficiently inflamed, the Chinese could stop buying up U.S. securities or, worse, start dumping them. Either scenario would be damaging to a U.S. economy that’s already trending downward.
Just as important is what’s presently transpiring in the Pacific Rim. After months of negotiations, North Korea has agreed to implode a nuclear cooling tower (among other concessions) in exchange for being removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror (among other concessions). China was the key intermediary in the talks that led to the U.S.-North Korean accord, and they’ll remain a vital buffer in the region. There’s still much we don’t know about Kim Jong Il’s nuclear aspirations, and in order to achieve the proper vigilance we’ll need China’s help. Obviously, engaging in brinkmanship over the Olympics would make China far less inclined to provide that help. (And all of this is to say nothing of our efforts to persuade China to stop artificially inflating the Yuan and subsidizing individual fuel purchases.)
The calculus is far more complex than China = bad, boycott = good, and U.S. leaders are thankfully mindful of that. Sure, there’s precedent in President Carter’s decision to swear off the Moscow Games of 1980. However, the situations couldn’t be more different. Today’s world is far more globalized, and, as such, our interests are far more commingled with those of other nations. Moreover, we’re not at war, cold or hot, with China.
Besides, embarrassment for China is in the offing, boycotts or no. You’re going to see many a nation’s athletes skip the opening ceremonies because they don’t want to be exposed to pollutants. You’re going to see countries’ shipping in their own meat because of food-safety concerns. And despite the chilling efforts of Chinese law enforcement, you’re going to see jarring instances of protest and civil disobedience. In fact, as a recent New Republic piece indicated, a number of human-rights groups haven’t agitated for boycotts because they want as many eyes as possible upon Beijing when the dissidents speak truth to power. (Oh, and you might also see the Fuwa mocked without mercy or ceasing.)
So the shaming of China will happen with or without us. For American purposes, it’s better that it happens without us.