Citing concerns about Beijing's human rights record, a bipartisan coalition of U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday asked Olympics organizers to reject China's bid to host the Games in 2008.
In a nonbinding resolution, 41 members of the House of Representatives, including Democratic leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to rebuff Beijing's bid to protest alleged rights violations including the crackdown on the spiritual group Falun Gong.
"This repressive regime does not deserve the international legitimacy this honor bestows," Rep. Tom Lantos of California, the ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee, told a news conference, one day before President George W. Bush holds talks with China's Vice-Premier Qian Qichen. They were expected to discuss several issues, including human rights.
A companion resolution will be introduced in the Senate by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, a North Carolina Republican, and Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, aides said.
But some lawmakers warned against shutting China out, saying the Olympics could spur the pace of reform in the communist nation.
"Engagement with China on a number of levels is critical for promoting both democratic ideals and reform," said Mike Siegel, an aide to Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, who is the Senate Finance Committee's senior Democrat. Baucus was an outspoken supporter of legislation last year to expand trade with China.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said it was up to the IOC to weigh Beijing's bid, but that the Bush administration's "objective is to see a tangible improvement in China's human rights situation."
GROUPS LOBBY AGAINST CHINA
China has come under increased criticism for human rights abuses as it bids to host the 2008 summer Olympics. Several human rights groups, pro-Tibet activists and British lawmakers have urged the IOC to rebuff China until Beijing improves civil liberties.
Chinese officials have in turn urged the IOC not to mix sport and politics when it votes in July to select the host from Beijing, Toronto, Paris, Osaka or Istanbul.
To counter international critics who helped scupper its bid for the 2000 Games, Beijing says it has the backing of China's 1.3 billion people and has pledged a massive environmental and building blitz.
But the lawmakers said China's human rights record has continued to deteriorate, citing a recent State Department report highlighting crackdowns against underground Christian groups and Tibetan Buddhists.
"Just when we thought China's human rights situation could not get any worse, it has," said Lantos, who compared China to Nazi Germany, which hosted the Games in 1936. Born in Hungary, Lantos was a member of the anti-Nazi underground as a teenager.
"It is difficult to understand how China can even be considered for the Olympics," added Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.
The House resolution asserts the Olympics should not be held in China until Beijing releases all political prisoners and observes internationally recognized human rights.
"It is simply the minimum we can expect," said Rep. Christopher Cox of California, a top House Republican.
Lantos introduced a similar resolution in 1993 opposing China's 2000 Olympics bid. It passed in the House with bipartisan support. The IOC selected Sydney over Beijing to host the 2000 Games.