China on defensive after Spielberg exit - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

China on defensive after Spielberg exit

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Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2008 10:22 pm | Updated: 9:49 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

BEIJING - China defended its policies in Darfur on Thursday and rejected attempts to link the humanitarian crisis to the Beijing Olympics, a day after Steven Spielberg said his conscience would not allow him to continue working as an adviser to the event.

The director's decision was part of growing criticism against China, targeting everything from its food safety to diplomatic policies abroad. Officials have repeatedly argued that the Olympics is a sporting event and should not be "politicized."

President Bush said Thursday that although he was concerned about the slow pace of international action in the Darfur region of Sudan, it wouldn't stop him from attending the Olympics.

He said Spielberg's decision to resign as an artistic adviser to the Olympics was personal.

"That's up to him. I'm going to the Olympics. I view the Olympics as a sporting event," Bush said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. television.

"On the other hand, I have a little different platform than Steven Spielberg, so I get to talk to President Hu Jintao," Bush said. "I do remind him that he can do more to relieve the suffering in Darfur."

Meanwhile, a top European Union official said athletes should resist raising human rights and other sensitive political issues during the Beijing Olympics.

"Sports is too important. It is too important to use it as a political instrument," said Milan Zver, the sports minister of Slovenia, which holds the EU presidency.

China is believed to have special influence with the Islamic regime because it buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports while selling it weapons and defending Khartoum in the U.N. Security Council. Fighting in Darfur has killed more than 200,000 people since 2003.

The Beijing Olympics organizing committee expressed regret over Spielberg's statement, in which the director said he felt China wasn't doing enough to pressure Sudan into ending the conflict.

"Linking the Darfur issue to the Olympic Games will not help to resolve this issue and is not in line with the Olympic Spirit that separates sports from politics," BOCOG said, adding preparations for the opening and closing ceremonies were progressing smoothly.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said it was understandable if some people did not understand China's policy on Darfur, though, "some people may have ulterior motives, and this we cannot accept."

He did not elaborate on what the ulterior motives might be.

China has made significant changes to its policies in Sudan within the last year, appointing a special envoy to the region and sending 140 engineers to help prepare for the arrival of a planned hybrid peacekeeping force. The efforts have earned kudos from the United States.

Political statements by athletes have become a growing issue as the Beijing Games approach, with less than six months until the opening ceremony.

Under IOC rules, athletes cannot discuss political issues within Olympic zones, but should have freedom of speech outside them. The EU's Zver said that even though he understood the importance of human rights, the Beijing Games should be spared the controversy.

"The Olympics is not a good place for that," Zver said in an interview with The Associated Press in Brussels. "We, the politicians, have to do that."

Zver believes multinational companies that trade and invest in China have more of an obligation to speak up rather than athletes.

"All the great companies from Europe and the United States try to be integrated in the economic development of China," he said. "They should say something, more efficiently, not the athletes."

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