President Bush's announcement that he will attend the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics came in the wake of brutal crackdowns in Tibet and during a week when seven peacekeepers were murdered in the Darfur region of Sudan, where China continues to underwrite the carnage.
It also came at a moment when a growing group of U.S. and international politicians have taken a stand by eschewing the opening ceremonies -- the only component of the Games geared not toward celebrating the athletes but entirely toward burnishing the Beijing regime's political image. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper were joined recently by European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering in deciding not to attend. Barack Obama and John McCain have indicated that if they were president they would not attend unless they saw a significant improvement in China's human rights record.
Bush has squandered an enormous opportunity. Beijing has been notoriously indifferent to traditional diplomatic pressure, but it has leaped into action to protect the Games. Early efforts by human rights activists to link Darfur to the Games prompted Beijing to hastily appoint an envoy to the region, to soften its veto threats on the U.N. Security Council and, most significantly, to sign last year's U.N. resolution authorizing a protection force for Darfur.
A presidential boycott of the opening ceremonies might have proved to be a powerful additional point of leverage with an otherwise intractable regime. A boycott limited to the opening ceremonies also would have had the advantage of not targeting the athletes. And it would have sent a strong symbolic statement to Beijing at little substantive cost to U.S.-China relations.
Instead, Bush has made a powerful statement tacitly approving China's behavior. His decision is regrettable.
It was a missed opportunity for the United States to stand strong in support of the anguished people of Darfur as well as the Tibetans in their long struggle.
It was an opportunity to express solidarity with those Chinese citizens whose human rights are being denied, to demonstrate moral leadership and to represent the values and principles our nation was founded on.
It was a golden opportunity now lost.
Originally Published in the LA Times
Actress Mia Farrow has made nine trips to the Darfur region. Ronan Farrow, a student at Yale Law School, has worked on human rights issues in Darfur and South Sudan and on U.S.-China relations for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. They are mother and son.