China hits out at attempts to politicise Olympics

Any attempt to use the Beijing Olympics to discredit China or force it to change policy is doomed to failure, the leading communist party newspaper said in a commentary piece on Tuesday.

The public relations counterattack comes amid a rough week for the Olympic organisers, who have had to admit previously concealed fatalities on the construction site and counter reports that the Dalai Lama backs Olympic-related protests in Tibet during the torch relay.

With activists from Hollywood to Taipei also trying to link the Games to Darfur, Taiwan independence, religious liberties and freedom of expression, the authorities in Beijing are fighting to prevent the event being politicised.

The commentary piece in the People’s Daily — the mouthpiece of the communist party — says opponents have created a mood of ”baffling excitement” in which China faces ”suggestions and accusations from all over the world, including misunderstandings, sarcasm and very harsh criticism”.

Such anti-Chinese attacks, it says, are miscalculated. ”The noise they made might bring some troubles to the organisation and planning of the Beijing Olympics, but they will not discredit China.”

The article criticises ”stars who write protest letters” — an apparent reference to Mia Farrow, whose call last year for a boycott of the Olympics unless China does more to halt the slaughter in Sudan is thought to have influenced Beijing to take a more active role in the attempt to find peace in Darfur.

The commentary also condemns ”those who dream of using the Olympics to support Taiwan independence”.

This is an apparent reference to the President of the island, Chen Shui-bian, and his supporters who are planning a referendum this spring on whether to join the United Nations.

China sees this as a provocative move towards de facto independence, but many in Taiwan assume Beijing will be reluctant to start hostilities ahead of hosting the Olympics.

The People’s Daily article says this is a misunderstanding of national priorities.

”No country in the world will compromise its core interests to host the Olympics,” it said, accusing critics of hurting the feelings of 1,3-billion Chinese people.

The rebuttal comes a day after organisers acknowledged six workers died in the construction of Olympic venues, including two fatalities at the Bird’s Nest, the main stadium over the past five years. The casualty figure is lower than that of Athens ahead of the last Games in 2004 but questions linger about why the deaths were not reported earlier.

The paper’s commentary is unlikely to mark the end of attempts to link the Olympics to human rights abuses. The Free Tibet campaign has called on public figures not to attend, and claims to have the understanding of Prince Charles — a known admirer of the Dalai Lama — though a spokesperson for Clarence House said he had not been invited.

Princess Anne, who is president of the British Olympic Association, and Prince Edward are likely to go to Beijing. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown accepted an invitation to attend the Games during his visit to the capital earlier this month.

China sees the Olympics as an opportunity to demonstrate its rising power, confidence and openness. The first of the main Olympic stadiums — the ”Water Cube” swimming pool — was unveiled on Monday. The total cost of Olympic venues will be within 13-billion yuan (about $1,8-billion), Chen Gang, vice-mayor of Beijing, said at the opening. – Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008

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