Human right activists say they are disappointed with President Bush's decision to attend the opening ceremony of the summer Olympics in Beijing, China. The announcement by the White House Thursday is the first confirmation of the president's plans to attend the August 8 ceremony. It comes despite calls from some U.S. lawmakers and activists for a boycott because of China's human rights record and support for the Sudan government.
In an interview with the BBC on Thursday, Mr. Bush reportedly said he views the Olympics as a sporting event.
Jerry Fowler is president of the Save Darfur Coalition, an advocacy group that is working to end the violence against civilians in Sudan's Darfur region. He told VOA President Bush has ignored the appeal of many to stay away from the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.
"We're very disappointed to hear that the president has announced that he's attending the opening ceremonies, and we suspect that he's disappointed too because he chose to release the news at the beginning of a three-day holiday here in the United States, which is usually when you put out news you don't want anyone to hear. In doing this he basically rejected broad-based bi-partisan calls from activists and members of Congress not to attend the opening ceremonies unless China is helpful in resolving the violence in Darfur, and so far they have not been helpful," he said.
In an interview with the BBC on Thursday, Mr. Bush reportedly said he views the Olympics as a sporting event, perhaps agreeing with those who believe that sports should be separate from politics.
But Fowler said China itself had played politics with sports in the past by boycotting the Olympics on many occasions.
"China sort the Olympics for political reasons in order to demonstrate their emergence as a world power. So the idea that the Olympics are separate from politics just doesn't make sense. And in fact, China boycotted the Olympics for most of the second half of the 20th Century for political reasons. But more importantly, we did not ask President Bus not to attend sporting events. We asked not to attend the opening ceremonies unless China started helping being part of the solution in Darfur," Fowler said.
He said rights groups asked President Bush not to attend the Olympics opening ceremony because it is blatantly political.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao reportedly said that boycotting the Olympics for political purposes would not help resolve the Darfur crisis.
Fowler said not attending the Olympics opening ceremony would have made a stronger political point about China's support for the Sudan government.
"Given that the president is going now, I do hope that he would take the opportunity to personally press the Chinese president in a very vigorous manner about the things that China can do to be part of the solution in Darfur instead of being part of the problem, which is what they are right now," Fowler said.
China has in the past said that it had been pressing Sudan to end the violence in Darfur. But it also blamed Sudan rebel groups for the violence.
Fowler said China has been Sudan's main arms supplier and protector at the United Nations.
"The facts are China has been Sudan's heat shield at the United Nations, protecting the Sudanese government from any multi-national consequences for the violence that they are responsible for. China is also a major arms provider to the Sudanese government; it's a huge financial patron. So I think the record is clear that China is part of the problem and not part of the solution," he said.
Last July the UN Security Council approved a hybrid United Nations-African Union civilian protection force for Darfur. But that force has yet to be half deployed.Fowler said his organization had wanted for President Bush to skip the Olympics opening ceremony unless the civilian protection force was fully deployed.