Beijing official denies any promises on freedoms

The head of the Beijing Olympic Organising Committee today denied that China had ever made any undertakings about providing greater freedom of speech or improving the country’s human rights record in return for being awarded the 2008 Games.

Wei Wang then launched an extraordinary attack against the western media, accusing them of only visiting Beijing, “to peek, to be critical, to dig into the small details and find fault”.

The BOCOG/International Olympic Committee daily briefing also marked the second successive day in which a journalist from ITN became involved in a confrontation with Chinese officials. This time Alex Thomson, Channel 4 News’s chief reporter, repeatedly asked, “Are the IOC embarrassed about the Chinese governments record on human rights?”, to the point when Chinese media officials attempted to grapple the press conference microphone from him.

Wei, the secretary general of BOCOG, clearly lost patience with the news questioning. “After 30 years of reform China has developed greatly,” he said. “People enjoy more freedom. People are living a good life. Everyone is happy. That’s a fact.

“Of course there are exceptions, like in any other country. But they need to take the legal process and procedures to resolve any issues. We cannot allow this country to be in chaos.

“But there are a few people who have come here to peek, to be critical, to dig into the small details and find fault. This does not mean that we are not fulfilling our promises. The whole country can see how can China has developed; how China has genuinely welcomed the world to enjoy everything with us.”

The daily official briefing at Olympics can be a piece of dull routine, dealing with questions of attendances and organisational detail. Today, though, the briefing took on a sharper focus.

Giselle Davies, the IOC’s communications director, could not satisfy Thomson with her answers to his questions about the Chinese government “lying through its teeth” about promises to improve human rights and press freedom. She said, “We have to note that there have been enormous steps forward in a number of areas,” and adding, when given another opportunity to answer the question, that the IOC was “very proud about how these Games are progressing” before praising the “spectacular venues”.

“I’m not asking about how well the Games are being run, or how wonderful the Games are,” Thomson followed up. “Are you embarrassed by China? I don’t think anyone thinks you have answered the question.”

“The Olympic Games is largely about the athletes and they have given us extremely strong feedback about how things are going,” Davies answered.

“We’re not getting anywhere are we?” Thomson said, determined to keep hold of the microphone despite the attentions of volunteers. “Are the IOC embarrassed about the Chinese governments record on human rights? One more chance…”

“We have to note the enormous steps in the wider area,” said Davies. “The world is watching and the IOC is appraising.”

Wei denied that China had ever given the IOC any firm undertakings on press freedom and human rights after being awarded the Games in 2001.

“I did not promise that China would promise to do whatever with the Games in China,” Wei said. “I think the Games will open up the horizon about China. People will see better what China is about.”

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