China's True Face

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It is wholly unacceptable that Jacques Rogge, the head of the International Olympic Committee, refuses to take a stand against the Beijing government's current crackdown on Tibetan protesters. In fact, this is completely at odds with the "Olympic spirit."

Far more than Steven Spielberg, who quit his advisory role for the Games because of China's unwillingness to pressure the Sudanese government on genocide in Darfur, the IOC has a special obligation to act. Since promised improvements in China's human rights were a quid pro quo for awarding the Olympic Games to Beijing, how can it proceed as if nothing happened when blood is flowing in the streets of Lhasa?

And if the Dalai Lama resigns from all his public positions in response to the violence, as he said yesterday that he might, the prospect of resolving the Tibet issue peacefully will be even more hopeless. We will feel very sorry if that comes about -- for Tibet and for China.

If the IOC doesn't move to put pressure on Beijing, as consistent with its obligations, it risks these Olympics being remembered like the 1936 Games in Berlin. Already, the spirit of the Olympics in Beijing has become associated with the word "genocide," thanks to Spielberg, as well as the Dalai Lama, who called the violence against Tibetans "cultural genocide." Indeed, if the IOC and the rest of the world do not pressure Beijing to stop the crackdown and improve human rights now, a boycott of the Games will widely be seen as justified.

Tibetans have long chafed under the oppression of the Chinese Communist Party. In 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled to exile in India, Tibetans' protests were harshly suppressed in a massacre that lasted more than a year. Since then, more than a million Tibetans have reportedly lost their lives because of the Chinese government's policies.

In 1989, it was Chinese President Hu Jintao, then a provincial leader, who suppressed yet another revolt in Lhasa by bringing in the military to kill people in the streets. And, of course, the whole world knows what happened in Tiananmen Square that year.

Clearly, without human rights protections and the rule of law, neither Tibetans nor the majority Han Chinese are safe from persecution at the whim of Communist authorities.

The old lies and propaganda don't work anymore. In the past, many Han Chinese didn't know about the sufferings of Tibetans. Now, thanks to travel, tourism, mobile phones and the Internet, the majority Han understand that the Tibetan struggle against tyranny is the same as theirs.

Of course, as part of China's "peaceful" face, Chinese authorities have expressed their willingness to resolve the Tibetan issue through negotiation. But, as with Darfur, there is no sincerity behind this willingness, and there will not be any unless international pressure is brought to bear. If there has been any lesson in all my years as an activist for democracy and human rights in China, it is that only international pressure coupled with internal pressure will yield solid results.

Jacques Rogge's unwillingness to pressure Beijing at this moment is so tragic because these Olympics are the turning point in modern Chinese history. Having invited the world to polite tea, the Communist Party rulers have turned their palace of power into a global glass house. They can no longer both show the smiling face of "a peaceful rise" to the world, and keep the stern face of brutal suppression at home.

The Olympics will force China to show its true face. Only international pressure, by the IOC and others, will make sure it is the face we all want to see.

Wei Jingsheng, a recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, lives in exile in Washington. He was first arrested in China in 1979 for his activities with the "Democracy Wall" movement and was released in 1993, nine days before the International Olympic Committee voted on Beijing's bid for the 2000 Games. This comment appeared in The Washington Post.