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Speaker Pelosi on the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing

March 28, 2008

Speaker Nancy Pelosi released the following statement today on the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing:

“The Olympic Charter states that the Olympics should seek to foster ‘respect for universal and fundamental ethical principles.’ Sadly, the Chinese government has not lived up to its commitments to improve the human rights situation in China and Tibet. I believe the International Olympic Committee made a mistake in awarding the 2008 Summer games to China, and I sponsored a Congressional resolution expressing that view at the time.

“However, I believe a boycott of the Beijing Olympics would unfairly harm our athletes who have worked so hard to prepare for the competition.

“The Olympics should provide for more opportunity for free expression, not less. When the Olympic torch passes through San Francisco next month, I support the rights of individuals and groups to make their views known about the actions of the Chinese government.

“As I said in India last week where I met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, if freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China’s oppression in Tibet, we have lost our moral authority to speak out on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world.”

Pelosi's New Power Adds Weight to Old Advocacy of Human Rights in China
Edward Epstein, CQ Today – March 28, 2008

Ever since she entered the House in 1987, Nancy Pelosi has been one of the most outspoken congressional advocates of human rights in China. Now that she is Speaker, the California Democrat's words carry new weight.

As China prepares to host the 2008 summer Olympics, it is under fire for its crackdown in Tibet, heavy-handed moves to avoid protests at the games, and its role in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Pelosi will play a decisive role in how Congress deals with Beijing this year.

“She has always been a leader on this issue,'' said John Ackerly, president of the International Campaign for Tibet. “Now that she's Speaker, she continues to be.''

Pelosi has said that she doesn't support boycotting the August Olympics, as some human rights groups and House members want.

But human rights campaigners hope a Pelosi-led House turns up the pressure on China this year, prodding it to respond to human rights concerns even as she works to resolve disputes over Beijing's trade, currency policy and intellectual property issues. Pelosi, who keeps a small replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue that symbolized the ill-fated 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement in a prominent place in her Capitol offices, has given every indication that she won't disappoint them.

She hasn't tipped her hand about specific legislation or House oversight initiatives she might support. But even before she led a delegation to Dharmsala, India, over the current congressional break to visit the exiled Dalai Lama and speak out against the crackdown on dissent in Tibet, Pelosi had said publicly that she has a long list of China-related issues she wants to address this year.

Asked at a March 6 news conference about growing Chinese investment in the United States, the Speaker said, “The whole issue of China, I think, has to be looked at.'' She mentioned the more than $900 billion in federal Treasury instruments that China has bought as it has run up enormous trade surpluses with the United States. “That's a lot of leverage for one country to have over another,'' she said.

“So we have a lot of issues, not only human rights, which has been my basic issue with them, but also on the trade and economic issues as well,'' she added.

Pelosi and members of her congressional delegation plan a press conference next Tuesday, April 1, to discusss their trip. They expect the focus to be on Tibet and human rights.

House committees are likely to hold hearings on the human rights issue, but the specific topics remain to be announced.

Business Leverage?

One veteran human rights campaigner, who asked not to be identified, suggested the House Foreign Affairs Committee call top executives of big U.S. multinational corporations that have signed on as Olympic sponsors and press them on what they are doing to improve the human rights situation in China. Companies on the list include such giants as Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Visa and Eastman Kodak. General Electric, parent of the NBC television networks that plan hundreds of hours of coverage from Beijing, would also be included.

“I think businessmen can make a difference,'' the human rights leader said.

A bipartisan group of House members led by Dana Rohrabacher, D-Calif., and Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, have introduced a resolution (H Res 610) calling for a U.S. boycott of the games. They have more than a dozen cosponsors, many of whom have written Pelosi asking for a House vote on their proposal and for hearings on the human rights situation in Tibet and across China.

“We should not permit the totalitarian government in Beijing to use the Olympics to cover its own evils as did Adolph Hitler in 1936,” said the letter put together by Rohrabacher, a conservative Republican who has worked with Pelosi on many initiatives involving human rights in China.

Even if Pelosi is not prepared to join a call for a boycott of the Olympics, Rohrabacher praises her engagement on the human rights issue.

“Speaker Pelosi has an opportunity now to be a powerful force for good. It appears she is taking advantage of that opportunity,” he said Wednesday. “I'm pleased that's she's there on this issue instead of many others in Congress who do not give a damn about human rights in China or anywhere else.”