This editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:
China may win the right this week to host the 2008 Olympics, but its victory wouldn't offer anything to cheer about. Beijing has not been attempting to improve its human rights record as part of its bid for the Olympics. On the contrary, it's been thumbing its nose at its own citizens and the rest of the world.
Amnesty International says that in the past three months China has summarily executed 1,781 people. The executions have taken place for violent crimes but also for such offenses as prostitution, stealing gasoline, using drugs and fraud. Beijing has also stepped up its persecution of the religious group Falun Gong, whose members, the government claims, are frequently committing suicide in prison.
China's deplorable record has not gone unnoticed. The European Parliament has passed a resolution opposing Beijing's bid for the Olympics and condemning its "disastrous record on human rights." The United States has focused its disapproval on Beijing's treatment of Chinese-born U.S. citizens and legal U.S. immigrants.
President Bush's phone call Thursday to Chinese President Jiang Zemin complaining about the detention of American businessmen, scholars and journalists was overdue. It took a nonbinding resolution in the House of Representatives about the scholars to nudge Bush to act.
In the past year, China has steadily been imprisoning - or, more precisely, kidnapping - American citizens and permanent residents. Li Shaomin, who had the temerity in a 1999 article to call for a "rule-based governance system," and Gao Zhan, a permanent U.S. resident and sociology researcher at American University in Beijing, are both on trial for allegedly spying for Taiwan.
Other prisoners include Wu Kainmin, an American citizen and freelance journalist; Liu Yaping, a permanent resident; Teng Chunyan, a permanent resident and member of Falun Gong, and Qin Guangguang, who holds a U.S. green card and is accused of disclosing state secrets. China has changed fundamentally. The totalitarianism of the Mao era is gone. The Chinese enjoy freedoms and a standard of living that would have been inconceivable two decades ago. But as Tiananmen Square and now the Falun Gong repression show, there are harsh limits. The current regime, which knows that it commands no popular legitimacy, is clinging to power. The targeting of Americans is a sign not of strength but of weakness. Beijing seeks to intimidate both domestic and foreign critics. The Bush administration needs to keep the pressure on China to stop holding American hostages - and to warn it against seizing more in the future.
The legalized lawlessness of China prevents it from becoming a fully reliable and responsible international partner. China would profit from winning its Olympic host bid, but its behavior will not be changed by prizes that come without conditions.