February 14, 2008 (BEIJING) — China expressed regret Thursday over US film-maker Steven Spielberg’s decision to cut ties with the Beijing Olympics, saying it was unacceptable to link politics to the sporting extravaganza.
Responding to what has become a public relations disaster ahead of the Games, authorities also defended China’s involvement with Sudan, which led to Spielberg pulling out as an artistic adviser over the Darfur crisis.
“We feel regret about his remarks,” foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said, after Spielberg called on Tuesday for China to do more to urge the Sudanese government to resolve the problems in Darfur.
“Some people are attempting to link the Darfur issue with Chinese government policies in Sudan, even with the organisation of the Olympics,” he said without mentioning the US producer by name.
“If they don’t know the Chinese policy, I can understand. But if they have got some objectives, especially political objectives, we cannot accept that.”
Spielberg’s statement coincided with more embarrassment for China from Nobel Prize winners and Olympic athletes critical of Beijing’s record on Darfur who addressed a letter on the same day to Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Signatories to the letter included South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other Nobel Peace laureates as well as Olympic athletes, writers, actors and political figures from around the world.
“As the primary economic, military and political partner of the government of Sudan, and as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China has both the opportunity and the responsibility to contribute to a just peace in Darfur,” said the letter.
“Ongoing failure to rise to this responsibility amounts, in our view, to support for a government that continues to carry out atrocities against its own people.”
The United Nations estimates 200,000 people have died in Darfur from the combined effects of war, famine and disease since 2003, when a civil conflict erupted pitting government-backed Arab militias against non-Arab ethnic groups.
China is a major economic partner and supplier of arms to Sudan, which is in turn accused of backing militia forces responsible for much of the violence.
Beijing consistently responds to attacks on its record in Sudan by defending its support for the government and accusing its attackers of prejudice against China, and it do so again on Thursday.
“The Chinese government has made unremitting efforts to resolve the Darfur issue,” said Zhu Jing, a spokeswoman from the Olympic organising committee.
“Linking the Darfur issue to the Olympic Games will not help to resolve this issue and is not in line with the Olympic spirit that separates sports from politics.”
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge was among the signatories on a version of the letter published Thursday, according to the Independent newspaper in London.
However, his spokeswoman denied he had signed on the letter. “It’s completely false,” spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau told AFP.
With less than six months to go before the Games, Darfur is one of just many blackspots that threaten to tarnish the Olympics.
China’s controversial rule of Tibet, its relations with rival Taiwan and the government’s alleged wide-ranging human rights abuses are among the other issues to have generated much controversy.
An aide to Britain’s Prince Charles said last month the heir to the British throne would not attend the Olympics’ opening ceremony, apparently because of his opposition to China’s handling of Tibet.
Meanwhile, human rights groups and activists have accused China of ramping up a campaign of repression against dissidents to ensure no Chinese voices of criticism are heard during the Games.
Beijing’s notorious air pollution has also attracted unwanted headlines after Ethiopian distance legend Haile Gebrselassie warned he may pull out of the Olympic marathon because of fears for his health.