Kevin Rudd on Beijing Olympics

Kevin Rudd is reported as saying he still hasn’t made up his mind whether or not to attend the Beijing Olympics.

“What we’ve said to the Chinese consistently since then is that we’re not in a position to confirm whether we would go, it will depend entirely on timing constraints as we get closer to the event and that remains our position.”

Leaving to one side a disconcerting habit of using the “Royal We” when speaking about himself, it is worth noting that Mr Rudd has also indicated that matters of principle will not play any part in his decision – it is solely “a matter of practicality and timing” as to whether he attends or not.

Mr Rudd may be right in his view that boycotts of the Games by athletes may not be effective. That does not necessarily apply to boycotts by political leaders or by other people refusing to go or refusing to support companies sponsoring the Games who think pressuring the Chinese government human rights is inappropriate.

In any case, Mr Rudd’s alternative doesn’t strike me as having a terribly good track record when it comes to effectiveness either.

“The key thing is to ensure we have an effective diplomacy which produces a better outcome for the Tibetan people.”

Leaving aside the fact that human rights abuses in China involve much more than Tibet, decades of diplomacy have produced virtually nothing in getting “a better outcome for the Tibetan people.” Improvements in human rights were used as a justification for awarding the Olympics to Beijing. Given that the Chinese government’s performance in that area has gone backwards since then, are we still meant to leave the Chinese people (and Tibetans) hoping that “effective diplomacy” alone will deliver them some basic rights?

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  1. Lets not forget that the Chinese have been variously slaughtering and oppressing themselves for hundreds of years, most recently the battles for power starting at the turn of the 20th century between the warlords, the decaying imperial dynasty, the Nationalist, and Communists culminating in Mao gaining control in 1945.

    During this time multiple “governments” were set up in various provinces and internal battles and mass killings were not uncommon. Even the short unification to defeat the invading Japanese was simply a question of pragmatism. I would surmise that it would be difficult for many in China to see Tibet and other actions as anything other than normal internal politics.

    Rudd’s words are those of a diplomat, knowing that face is most important for the Chinese and that that being otherwise engaged is regrettable but acceptable, rather than considering “matters of principle”. Diplomats do not have any matters of principle – simply positions that can be put and alternatives that can be achieved.

    Not quite sure of the point of your post – are you really saying he should boycott or not?

  2. Rudd has certainly been forthright on this issue today, and under circumstances that maximize the chance of his message reaching the Chinese population at large.

    Without taking anything away from ken’s comment above (with which I essentially concur), Rudd has shown that it is possible to meld diplomacy and principle – at least under some circumstances.

    And I must say that, for me, having a PM willing to enunciate a foreign policy position based on something other than trade considerations summons forth some long-forgotten feelings of belonging to a nation with which I am comfortable with being identified.

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