U.S. lawmakers want Olympic opening ceremony boycott

By Richard Cowan, Reuters

WASHINGTON — Conservative and liberal members of Congress banded together on Thursday to urge a U.S. government boycott of the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in China, accusing Beijing of gross human rights violations.

“No official in the (U.S.) executive branch, in the judicial branch and particularly in the congressional branch ought to attend the opening ceremonies of this Olympics,” said Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, a conservative Republican and long-standing critic of China’s clampdown on religious groups and its human rights record.

Wolf criticized a plan by Beijing he said sends up to 200 North Koreans in China “back to North Korea and they face torture … and the world does very little about it.”

Sen. Robert Menendez, a liberal Democrat from New Jersey who has called on President George W. Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies of the Games, said China had a “human rights record of shame.”

The Summer Olympics, held every four years, are scheduled to open in Beijing on Aug. 8. As the event nears, protests against China’s government policies have flared in the United States and Europe, especially as the ceremonial Olympic torch has been carried across those two continents.

China has dismissed the international protests. In an editorial last month, the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, wrote, “Although a few people with ulterior motives have tried to interfere with and vilify the Beijing Olympics … this can never alter the determination of the 1.3 billion Chinese to successfully hold the Games for the world.”

The White House has said Bush plans to attend the Beijing Olympics, without specifying the opening ceremonies, which are intended to celebrate the athletic events but also provide a huge public relations boost for host countries.

During a celebration to mark Asian Pacific American Heritage month, Bush said he was pleased Beijing and representatives of the exiled Tibet spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, were willing to meet.

“I think it’s important that there be a renewed dialogue, and that dialogue must be substantive so we … can address in a real way the deep and legitimate concerns of the Tibetan people,” he said at the White House.

At a news conference to highlight concerns about China’s human rights record, conservative Rep. Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican, called for swift passage of his legislation to prohibit U.S. companies from identifying Internet users to officials of repressive countries.

The measure also would require firms to disclose the Internet information they block in order to comply with censorship policies of such countries.

In 2006, Congress held hearings on censorship practices of Internet companies, such as Google, in China.

Trying to bolster their case for a U.S. government boycott of the opening ceremonies, the lawmakers cited China’s role in providing arms to Sudan, which they said had helped foster genocide in Darfur, the arrests of Christians for practicing their religion in China and moves to “liquidate Tibet’s culture.”