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US Rights Campaigner Says China's Poor Image Could Jeopardize 2008 Olympics


American human rights campaigner John Kamm says China needs to improve its poor international image if it wants the 2008 Olympics to be a success. Beijing has already started to deal with its image problem ahead of the games, as Claudia Blume reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

John Kamm leads the Dui Hua foundation, a U.S.- based human rights groups focusing on China. Speaking at a luncheon in Hong Kong on Thursday, Kamm said Beijing has one major problem that could jeopardize the success of next year's Olympics: a poor international image that could lead to protests, low attendance and poor TV ratings during the games.

Kamm says there are a number of reasons for Beijing's image problem. One is international concern about China's human rights abuses. This includes the jailing of journalists and human rights defenders, the widespread use of capital punishment and the suppression of minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang.

In recent months, Beijing has also been criticized for its support of the government in Sudan. Western critics say China is not using its influence in the country to stop the violence in Sudan's Darfur region. Kamm says criticism from Hollywood stars in particular is shaping the public's opinion.

"Just in the last few days George Clooney has come out with a big anti-China statement in favor of intervening in Darfur," he said. "Meryl Streep has just joined the campaign, so Hollywood is now making this a major issue."

Kamm says Beijing is paying attention to world opinion and has already taken steps to deal with its image since it was awarded the Olympic Games. China has recently appointed a special envoy for Darfur and has temporarily eased rules for journalists working in China. The number of executions in the country dropped by 40 percent since China won the bid for the Olympics.

Kamm expects Beijing to implement more reforms before next year. He says a bill to reform China's re-education system, for example, is scheduled to be considered by the legislature in October.

"We haven't seen the draft, it doesn't seem to be satisfactory," added Kamm. "We will still see people put away without trials but there will be some improvements, and it is our responsibility as people who care about China to make sure that the bill is the best bill possible."

Kamm says there are a number of constraints preventing Beijing from introducing more reforms. One is the 17th Communist Party congress, which is scheduled later this year. Kamm says China's leaders do not want to appear to be bowing to Western critics ahead of the congress.

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