Child labor. Forced abortions. Religious persecution. Jailed dissidents. Cultural cleansing in Tibet and ethnic cleansing in Africa.
For China, the run-up to next summer's Olympics in Beijing is looking like a marathon through a human-rights minefield.
It's been decades since the games focused strictly on which athletes were faster or stronger. But the Olympics have not been this politicized since the US-Soviet boycotts of the 1980s.
China sees a chance to wow the world as it hosts its first event watched by billions of people. The increasingly image-conscious country will measure success both with medals and whether the 2008 Olympics burnish its rising star. That gives activists, governments and celebrities with a cause an opportunity to influence policies they've long assailed.
The games raise a difficult question for a government famously dismissive of outside pressure: What accommodations might be made without losing face?
Even China's sharpest critics do not anticipate major shifts before the games begin Aug. 8, 2008. Cosmetic changes are possible on issues such as free speech and labor conditions. Concessions on Tibetan autonomy or the Falun Gong spiritual movement are off the table.
"Everyone I've talked to about China policy is focused on the Olympics," said Michael Green, a former Asia specialist in President George W. Bush's administration, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Beijing knows this and I think they are trying to take minimal steps now to not have to fundamentally change their policies in 2008."
China insists its approach to free speech and other rights held sacred in the West fits its own culture. Falun Gong is a cult, Beijing says, and Tibet has long been under Chinese sway.
One issue China has budged on is Darfur, the region in Sudan where militias allegedly backed by the government have slaughtered hundreds of thousands of civilians. China is the African nation's diplomatic patron and its biggest trading partner.
After resisting calls for intervention, China dispatched a special envoy and lobbied Sudan to accept a UN peacekeeping force.
Observers disagree whether those moves were motivated by external pressure or self-interest, pointing out that China continues to shield the regime from UN economic sanctions.
In the campaign to save Darfur, Hollywood is leading the charge.
Opening ceremonies consultant Steven Spielberg urged Chinese President Hu Jintao to change Sudan policy after the director was publicly branded a collaborator by Mia Farrow. The actress and UN goodwill ambassador calls these the "genocide Olympics" and last month announced an Olympic-style torch relay through sites of atrocities.
"Whatever their motivation is, [the Chinese] can, I think, be channeled to being a much more constructive actor going forward," Darfur activist John Prendergast said.
There are other signs that China is attuned to international opinion the same way a host worries whether guests at a housewarming get the right impression.
The past month brought two gestures. For the first time, the mother of a man who was killed during the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown was allowed to publicly mark the anniversary. And Olympic organizers launched a child-labor investigation after it was discovered that four official souvenir makers were using workers as young as 12.
Several labor advocates do not expect fundamental reforms in a country where galloping economic expansion is a priority which depends on a cheap, pliable work force.
"There are a handful of people who are trying to politicize the Olympic Games," Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (
It is more than a handful -- it's just about everyone with a gripe against China. Most have modest goals, while other groups do not voice specific hopes, but still see opportunity.
Reporters Without Borders has accused the Algerian government of taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to “settle scores” with independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government protests. In a statement signed with Algerian non-governmental organizations, the watchdog on Thursday called for the immediate release of its correspondent, Khaled Drareni, who has been in pretrial detention since Sunday after being charged with inciting an unarmed gathering and endangering national unity. Drareni has been arrested several times for covering the “Hirak” anti-government protests held in the capital, Algiers, every Friday since February last year. Imprisoning people during a pandemic is “an act of physical endangerment,”
Vietnam has lodged an official protest with China following the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat that it said had been rammed by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel near islands in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese fishing vessel, with eight fishermen onboard, was fishing near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) on Thursday when it was rammed and sunk by the Chinese vessel, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement posted on a government Web site yesterday. All of the fishermen were picked up by the Chinese vessel alive and were transferred to two other Vietnamese fishing vessels
DIVIDED YOUTH: There is a belief that overseas students see themselves as superior, which is compounded by perceptions of their extreme wealth and multiple nationalities Chinese students flying home from overseas to escape the COVID-19 pandemic face a frosty reception from sections of the public who view them as wealthy, spoiled — and potentially contaminated. The number of officially reported cases in China has dwindled dramatically over the last month, but the country is now taking drastic steps to try and stem a second wave of infections brought in from abroad. With most international flights canceled and nearly all foreigners barred from entering the country, the vast majority of returnees are Chinese nationals, including many students. The situation has exposed animosities over class and privilege in Chinese society,
The dramatic quietening of towns and cities during lockdown in Britain has changed the way the Earth moves beneath our feet, scientists said. Seismologists at the British Geological Survey (BGS) have found that their sensors are twitching less now that human activity has been curtailed, leading to a drop in the anthropogenic din that vibrates through the planet. The fall in the human hum that rings around the world means that, in theory at least, the scientists should be able to detect smaller earthquakes in the UK, and more distant tremors in Europe and in countries further afield than their equipment usually