But, hidden away from the eyes of the world, far away from the glitz and the pageantry, is a much uglier side of China -- its long and horrible record of human rights abuses.
In a recent press release, Amnesty International (AI) charges that "time is running out for the Chinese government to fulfill its promise of promoting human rights as part of the Olympics legacy." In the same press release, AI cites a number of key human rights areas that it has urged the Chinese authorities to address prior to the Olympics. These include the death penalty, detention without trial, persecution of human rights activists, and restrictions on media freedom (including Internet communication).
To make matters even worse, it appears that increased detentions without trial are being used to "clean up" Beijing in preparation for the Olympic Games. In other words, the Chinese authorities may be using the Games as an excuse for further human rights abuses.
At first, a boycott may sound appealing. After all, a boycott by the U.S. would certainly focus a lot of media attention on the reasons behind the boycott. And, if a number of other nations followed suit, the resulting economic and political pressures on Beijing might lead the Chinese authorities to reconsider their policies lest they risk further global isolation.
Upon further analysis, however, a U.S. boycott of the Games could create more problems -- for us -- than it solves.
Second, and more important from a moral standpoint, the U.S. is in no position to point the finger at China with regard to human rights. Yes, China has a horrible human rights record. But our own human rights record has become deeply stained in recent years with Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and an Attorney General who thinks the Geneva Conventions are "quaint".
Yes, China needs to stop its human rights abuses and change the policies that lead to those abuses. And I hope that people around the world will be raising their voices about it before, during, and after the 2008 Olympics -- for as long as it takes.
But for the U.S. to boycott the Games would be the height of hypocrisy, and the world knows it. Until the U.S. cleans up its own act, its criticism of China amounts to nothing more than the pot calling the kettle black.