A group of lawmakers led by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., urged the Chinese government Thursday to uphold its commitment to improve the country's human rights record in the months leading up to the Beijing Summer Olympic Games.
China put in its bid to host the 2008 games nearly a decade ago but conditions for oppressed groups have not changed, according to members of the House and Senate and representatives from watchdog groups who spoke at a midday briefing.
China is the "foremost enabler of human rights abuses around the world," Brownback said, noting the country's ties to Burma, North Korea and Sudan and its retaliation against Tibet.
He and others chastised the government for spying on its own citizens; Internet censorship, and imprisoning people who express controversial views in print and online. Brownback called the festivities "an Olympics of oppression."
The senator told CongressDaily after the rally that his office had been contacted by two "reliable sources" who claimed the Chinese government is requiring hotels in Beijing, including those owned by U.S. companies, to install Internet filtering and tracking software on their networks before the Games.
Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., who spoke at the event and has introduced a bill that would ban U.S. high-tech companies from cooperating with regimes that restrict free speech on the Internet, said in an interview that "hotels are not a safe haven or oasis of any kind from government surveillance," adding, "When I travel there, the room is not only bugged, it's videotaped. You have no privacy, period."
At the event, Smith revived his call for Congress to pass the bill. Chinese offshoots of Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo have been linked to the capture and imprisonment of Web-based activists in China and other countries.
The measure would also establish a State Department office to pursue a global strategy to combat state-sponsored Internet jamming. It has passed three committees of jurisdiction and is ready for a floor vote, Smith said. He called on House Speaker Pelosi to make time for the bill.
The legislation does not have a Senate companion but Brownback, who said he is reviewing the proposal, believes introducing a similar bill is "a possibility, particularly if the Chinese continue their activities."
Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., who is familiar with the measure, did not seem as hopeful. "We can't get anything done on the floor that has to do with the United States, so foreign policy is not going to be moving anywhere in the Senate this year," he said in an interview after addressing the crowd.
Brownback and others urged President Bush not to attend the games. "The athletes should participate; the president should not," he said. The senator said he would reiterate that point Sunday when he and Bush are together in Greensburg, Kan., to commemorate the one-year anniversary of a tornado that devastated the town.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said no one from any branch of the U.S. government should take part in the Olympics.
Despite its "dismal" track record, Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., said China has become an important economic player and a key U.S. business partner. "A rising economic tide may lift many boats [but China] has capsized the voices of many," she said.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., called China's "a human rights record of shame; a human rights record we cannot tolerate."
The event also featured speakers from Amnesty International; the International Campaign for Tibet; the North Korea Freedom Coalition; Reporters Without Borders; Save Darfur; the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom and others.
This article appears in the May 3, 2008 edition of NJ Daily.