Silence speaks volumes as Beijing ignores criticism

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The Independent Online

Steven Spielberg's decision to quit as artistic adviser to the 2008 Games over China's inaction on Darfur may have made headlines around the world. Not in Beijing.

Yesterday evening, the state broadcaster CCTV chose to screen a report on athletes preparing for the Olympic games in August, ignoring the furore entirely. There was a deafening silence too from Beijing's Olympic organisers (Bocog), which met last night to discuss the US director's withdrawal. The initial reserve from Olympic organisers showed China is keen to limit any negative fallout and sources close to the organisers stressed that it was Spielberg's personal decision to step down.

But the silence of the local media over an event that tarnishes the reputation of the Beijing games will serve as ammunition to human rights groups trying to highlight the lack of free speech and media freedom in China.

Steven Spielberg is not an especially well-known figure in China, and his decision to take part in organising the games probably did more to boost his profile in China than the entire Indiana Jones canon. The Chinese director Zhang Yimou, who is orchestrating the opening and closing ceremonies, is the real celebrity among the organisers, followed by the Taiwanese director Ang Lee, who is acting as a consultant.

The vast majority of people in Beijing are fiercely proud of what they see as a massive celebration to mark their emergence on to the world stage. Ordinary people believe China by no means has a monopoly on selling weapons to, and buying oil from, corrupt regimes. And they are particularly quick to reject critical voices from the US, pointing to the Iraq war, detention without trial at Guantanamo and the practice of rendition, as examples of how the US has lost the moral imperative in international affairs.

And while Chinese media were silent, there were some vocal online reactions to foreign reports of Mr Spielberg's decision.

"I'm angry! Why connect sports and art with politics? Reality, democracy, human rights ... what do they look like? Don't bother with Sudan and China. Are you perfect, America? Do you have right to criticise other countries?" wrote a webizen whose name was given as "A man awake".

Another webizen, Alex, said the Olympics were for the whole world. "Mr Spielberg did not understand the essence of the Olympic spirit. I didn't get what his conscience has to do with the success or failure of the China Olympics. If the Chinese government has made mistakes in its Sudan policies, self-criticism is necessary. But this should not be mangled with the Olympics."

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