BEIJING : Chinese President Hu Jintao appealed Friday to keep politics out of the Olympics, trying to deflect international criticism one week before an event that has put the spotlight on Beijing’s behaviour at home and abroad.
The run-up to the Olympics, which Beijing hopes will be a showcase for its rising global power, has been marred by a series of controversies — the latest when China backtracked on Internet freedoms for the visiting foreign press.
Some banned websites were unblocked on Friday after the uproar, but Hu said it was against the Olympic spirit to bring political issues into the Games, and that throwing such issues in the face of Beijing served no purpose now.
“It’s only inevitable that people from different countries and regions of the world don’t see eye-to-eye on certain issues,” Hu said in an interview with foreign media that was largely scripted in advance.
“I don’t think politicising the Olympic Games will do any good to address these issues,” he said. “It runs counter to the Olympic spirit and also to the shared aspirations of the people of the world.”
With 20,000 journalists arriving for the Olympics, the Communist Party leadership is facing unprecedented scrutiny from up close — and China has tried to keep the focus on sport instead of politics and human rights.
From the March crackdown in Tibet to the protests that greeted the Olympic torch relay to China’s cozy relationship with the Sudan regime blamed for the tragedy of Darfur, however, politics has repeatedly intervened.
Critics have accused Beijing of reaping the prestige of hosting the Games but not living up to promises it made to win them, including improvements in its record on human rights.
The latest controversy flared this week when foreign press at the Olympic media centre found they could not access a wide range of Internet sites, which led to a new round of criticism of Beijing from around the globe.
The move was an embarrassment for the International Olympic Committee, which also emerged red-faced when the worldwide torch relay had to be cut short because of angry protests — including at the first lighting of the flame.
IOC president Jacques Rogge last month promised that the foreign media would have unfettered access to the Internet.
On Friday, the previously barred websites of rights group Amnesty International, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle were accessible.
“It’s a good thing,” said IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies.
But many other sites were still blocked, including those linked to Chinese dissidents, the outlawed Falungong spiritual movement, the Tibetan leadership-in-exile and sites with information on the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.
“As always, we will continue to provide facilities for foreign journalists coming to China to report,” Hu said, without commenting on the changes.
“Of course, we also hope the foreign reporters will abide by Chinese laws and regulations,” he said. “We also hope you will provide objective reports of what you see here.”
China has a long tradition of carefully scripting media events, and the Hu interview was no exception.
All questions had to be submitted in advance. Hu did not respond when a German journalist tried to ask a question about human rights at the end of the meeting.
In a Chinese context, “objective reporting” is a code word for toeing the party line, said Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.
“The implication is that foreign journalists should refrain from reporting stories that the government finds critical,” he said.
Channel News Asia