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China's Olympic muddle

This coming-out party is already tarnished by a worsening human rights record.

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Like a marathoner at the finish line, China seems whipped. It struggled two decades to host the Olympics that open in three weeks. It has spent about $50 billion, pumped up its athletes, spiffed up Beijing, and fended off calls for a boycott. Now it may wonder if the effort will be worth it.

The Games themselves will, of course, be the world's main focus for two weeks after the Aug. 8 opening ceremonies. And thousands of athletes will fulfill once again the purpose of the modern Olympics, as stated by founder Pierre de Coubertin: "to bring together in a radiant union all the qualities which guide mankind to perfection."

But these Olympics also came with two political expectations, both of which are not even close to earning a medal.

One is human rights in China. The International Olympic Committee, in awarding the Games seven years ago, pointed to the Communist Party's record in suppressing dissent and said it expected that "openness, progress, and development in many areas will be such that the situation will be improved." The IOC also said athletes have "an absolute right" during the Games to speak out. The party itself did not publicly agree to improve its record, but the head of China's bidding team did say the Beijing Games would "benefit the further development of our human rights cause."

If anything, China's human rights record has worsened, as seen clearly during this spring's crackdown on Tibet's Buddhist monks. Last year, the number of arrests for "endangering state security" was at their highest since 2000.

And China's hand in world atrocities, such as Darfur and Zimbabwe, has also worsened. Steven Spielberg quit as artistic adviser for the Olympic ceremonies over China's backing of Sudan.

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