Bush: Skipping Olympics an ‘Affront’ to China

President Bush reiterated his intention to attend the opening ceremonies in Beijing and stated that doing otherwise would be an “affront” to the Chinese people.

US President George W. Bush, left, gestures during a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda at the G8 summit Sunday, July 6, 2008 in the lakeside resort of Toyako on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) President Bush said Sunday he does not feel the need to boycott the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics to state his opposition to China’s human rights record. Skipping the event would be an “affront” to the Chinese people, he said.

Bush spoke at a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who announced that he also plans to attend the ceremonies. Other world leaders have decided not to go as a rebuke to China’s violent crackdown on anti-government protests in Tibet.

I don’t feel strongly either way about this issue. My preference would have been not to award China the Olympics, given not only their abysmal human rights record but also the ridiculous level of pollution in Beijing which puts the health of the athletes in danger. Boycotting the opening ceremonies would embarrass the Chinese government and send a message, I suppose, although it would likely just increase their intransigence and make them less cooperative.

What strikes me as interesting in all this is that Bush has rather clearly, in his second term, become much more cognizant that symbolic gestures and rhetoric have an impact beyond the domestic audience. A boycott would likely play well at home, since both the Left and the Right are united in their distaste for the PRC government, albeit for different reasons. But China is the key player in Asia and their cooperation is essential in addressing many issues of strategic concern to the United States in that region. Thinking through the consequences of thumbing our noses at them, therefore, is important.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. William d'Inger says:

    I have to admit my ignorance about this. I don’t remember all the world’s leaders attending opening ceremonies in the past. It it a tradition that has skipped my attention all these years? I’m not trying to raise any political issues or anything. I am honestly unaware of any such thing.

  2. Anderson says:

    A boycott would likely play well at home,

    Can’t agree. It might do well with the fringes to left & right, but most people would be disappointed on the athletes’ behalf, as I recall they were during the 1980 boycott.

    Once China’s allowed to host the party, we have to show up. There would have to be very very bad behavior for us to pull out at this point — shooting 300 people dead in the street, say.

  3. James Joyner says:

    most people would be disappointed on the athletes’ behalf, as I recall they were during the 1980 boycott.

    I’m just talking about a presidential boycott of the opening ceremonies. Agreed that a boycott of the games would go over like a lead balloon but I haven’t heard anyone suggest that.

  4. Spoker says:

    This sounds like one afternoon when I was about 7 or 8. We were playing baseball in the backyard, a guy named Dave didn’t like the way things were going so he took his ball and went home. Gary, who lived close by ran home, got his ball and we keep on playing. Needless to say, Dave didn’t play much after that. It is a shame so many seem to have not learned that lesson at a younger age.

  5. od says:

    Past athlete boycotts didn’t make any difference to anybody except the athlete’s who weren’t allowed to take part. Presidential boycotts of opening ceremonies seem like an empty insult – and the Chinese are likely to feel the US is being hypocritical about whats going on in Tibet considering what’s going on in Iraq. The message taken by the Chinese would probably be that the US isn’t seriously interested in Tibet, just in using it to deflect attention to Iraq.

  6. Wayne says:

    Just a reminder that there is a difference between the Chinese people and the Chinese Government. It has been a while since I have been there but most of the Chinese people I met had a favorable opinion of the U.S. The government party people were quite the opposite. The Chinese people and the government had more of a disconnect than the U.S. by far.

    However the Chinese people still have national pride and I can see them getting offended by a boycott which could be harmful to us. The Shanghai market is quite a place with I don’t know how many people in it but we never once got dirty looks and were treated very well. Thousand of them cheer us when we perform well during our competition and were very respectful. I very much like the Chinese people that I met but don’t care much for their government.

  7. President Bush reiterated his intention to attend the opening ceremonies in Beijing and stated that doing otherwise would be an “affront” to the Chinese people.

    Yeah it would. That’s kinda the whole point.