Open main menu

Wikinews β

International row after Spielberg quits 2008 Beijing Olympics

Friday, February 15, 2008

Steven Spielberg in 1999.
The Beijing National Stadium, where the opening ceremonies will take place.

On Wednesday, United States film director Steven Spielberg withdrew from his position as artistic adviser to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. "Conscience will not allow me to continue with business as usual," he said.

"Sudan's government bears the bulk of the responsibility for these ongoing crimes but the international community, and particularly China, should be doing more to end the continuing human suffering there," Spielberg's statement said. "China's economic, military and diplomatic ties to the government of Sudan continue to provide it with the opportunity and obligation to press for change."

China immediately expressed regret over his decision and suggested that "ulterior motives" may be at play. "It is understandable if some people do not understand the Chinese government policy on Darfur, but I am afraid that some people may have ulterior motives, and this we cannot accept. ... China is also concerned about the humanitarian situation in Darfur. [But] empty rhetoric will not help. We hope that relevant people will be more pragmatic," said Liu Jianchao, the Deputy-Director General of the Information Department in China's foreign ministry.

Following Spielberg's withdrawal, other organizations called for boycott of the Games. However, United Kingdom Minister for the Olympics Tessa Jowell rejected such calls. "The world has known for the last seven years that Beijing would host the Olympics," Jowell told The Times. "Most progressive governments accept that there are wholly unacceptable aspects of Chinese policy, but that did not stop the International Olympic Committee awarding them the games. A call for a boycott doesn't serve any purpose and it would be a great pity. This doesn't mean, however, we should be distracted from the urgency of Darfur."

"China is also concerned about the humanitarian issues there, but we have been playing a positive and constructive role in promoting peace in Darfur," Liu said, adding that China is working with the United Nations to provide aid and resolve the crisis.

Critics of China contend that China supports the Islamic regime in Sudan because it buys two-thirds of the country's oil exports and also sells it weapons. Further, China has been defending the government in Khartoum in the United Nations Security Council. Since 2003, fighting between government-backed militia and rebels in Darfur has led to the death of more than 200,000 people and displaced some 2.5 million others.

Meanwhile, United States President George W. Bush confirmed that he still plans to attend the Games in Beijing. "I view the Olympics as a sporting event. On the other hand, I have a different platform to Steven Spielberg, so I get to talk to Hu Jintao [President of China] and I do remind him he can do more to relieve the suffering in Darfur."

Bush followed this by saying: "I’m not going to use the Olympics as an opportunity to express my opinions to the Chinese people in a public way because I do it all the time with the president."


Sources