White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said last week that she could not announce the president’s schedule, but she “expect(s) that the opening ceremonies could be a part of that trip.”
Bush views the Olympics as a “sporting competition” and “first and foremost” supports the athletes, Perino said.
But at least two heads of state differ with the president on boycotting the games. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus have already announced that they will not attend the opening ceremony in Beijing in response to human rights abuses.
“Bush’s decision to go to Beijing is a devastating blow to human rights in China,” Steven Mosher, president of Population Research Institute, told Cybercast News Service.
“For Bush to go to the Olympics, especially to the opening ceremonies, is an endorsement of the current regime and its practices, which are horrific,” Mosher said. “If President Bush is standing on the podium at the opening ceremonies beside Hu Jintao, the Chinese leader, then that is a de facto endorsement of the government.”
Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, was “deeply disappointed” by Bush’s decision. Fowler said that China, Sudan’s chief diplomatic sponsor, major weapons provider, and largest foreign investor and trade partner, should use its influence to promote peace in Darfur.
He expressed concern over the message Bush is sending.
“Darfuris languishing in camps have heard nothing but heart-wrenching rhetoric from world leaders who claim solidarity with those suffering and dying, yet cast their lots with those who abet and enable genocide,” he said in a statement released Thursday.
Though Perino said that Bush will talk to Communist Chinese President Hu Jintao during his trip about human rights and religious freedom, advocacy groups are not optimistic about the talks.
“I don’t have high hopes for them because I think China, although it might have made some improvements, still has a huge way to go on religious freedom,” Bill Saunders, the human rights counsel at the Family Research Council, told Cybercast News Service.
“It really doesn’t matter what he says in private, things won’t change in China,” Mosher agreed. “He’s going without conditions to Beijing and the Beijing leadership is not going to compromise.”
Although disappointed, Mosher was not surprised at the president’s decision.
“It was almost a foregone conclusion that he would go because his father is the honorary chairman of the Beijing Olympics; (and) his uncle, Prescott Bush, has major investments in China,” Mosher said. “So he’s caught between his family’s economic ties to China and doing the right thing.”
“I think that the president is going to go because he doesn’t want to slight the (Chinese) government,” said Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute.
“I think he should also make a point of not slighting any of the groups that have been abused by the existing government,” London added.
Human rights groups have not lost hope. Now that a boycott of the opening ceremony is not an option, several groups suggest that Bush should pressure the Chinese leadership during his visit or issue public statements about his concern over human rights abuses.
“The president can still take meaningful action. His attendance of the opening ceremonies will provide an opportunity to personally press Chinese leaders on their Darfur policy,” Fowler said.
Saunders thinks Bush should make public statements expressing his concern over the human-rights violations.
“He can put it diplomatically if he wants to, but he needs to make the point that religious freedom is still a serious problem in China,” Saunders said.
Mosher was not as sure about the next move for advancing human rights during the Olympics.
“I don’t know what he can do, since he’s already giving the Chinese government a propaganda coup by going to China. I think that Hu Jintao … will listen politely as Bush jawbones him a little bit about religious freedom,” Mosher said.
London told Cybercast News Service that he sees Bush’s appearance at the Olympics as a way to reach the world press because they will be present in China during the Olympics.
“What the president has as an extremely important weapon is the influence of world opinion,” said London. “If he can somehow use the bully pulpit as an occasion to bring attention to human rights violations, that I think is very appropriate and very important.”
London expects Bush to take some action for human rights while at the Olympics.
“I do think the president is under some obligation to say something,” London said. “Whether he will or not remains to be seen, but my guess is if I were engaged in a wager, I would guess that he probably would say something.”
The Olympics begin Aug. 8 and run through Aug 24.