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Politicker NJ - "Smith Calls for Olympics Boycott"

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While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already called on President Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics this summer, Rep. Chris Smith wants to take it further - a complete boycott of the games.

In an interview with last week, Smith renewed his call to boycott the Olympics, in part because of the Chinese government's recent crackdown on Tibetan dissent. But Smith has been a long-time advocate of such a protest, stemming from the Chinese regime's long record of human rights violations.

"I've called for it very aggressively," said Smith, the former chairman of the House Judiciary's subcommittee on Human Rights and Law. "We're calling it the ‘genocide Olympics' because of their enabling of the genocide in Darfur."

French President Nicholas Sarkozy is said to be mulling whether or not to go to the ceremonies, while German Chancellor Andrea Merkel and Britain's Prince Charles have both said that they would not attend.

At the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce's dinner in Washington in January, Smith said that the U.S. ought to call on China to release political prisoners.

"The Olympics, it seems to me, gives us a window of opportunity to reassert our solidarity with these courageous people by, at the very least, calling for their release from the Chinese gulags," he said during the speech.

Still, Smith acknowledges that the U.S. is likely to go to Beijing in the summer.

"I don't think we should go, first and foremost. We're likely to go as a nation. Some nations may pull out and I hope they do," he said. "But in the mean time we need to be raising every one of the human rights violations that they systematically engage in."

Last year, Smith co-sponsored House Resolution 610, which called for the U.S. to take immediate steps to boycott the games "unless the Chinese regime stops engaging in serious rights abuses against its citizens and stops supporting serious human rights abuses by the Governments of Sudan, Burma, and North Korea against their citizens."

Smith tied the boycott call to his Global Online Freedom Act, which has been three years in the making and is slated to come up for a vote as early as next fall. The law targets internet companies nations with totalitarian regimes like China, making it a criminal offense for companies like Yahoo, Google, Cisco Systems and Microsoft to disclose personal information about human rights activists in those nations.

In essence, the bill is meant to protect all nonviolent political and religious speech on the internet. It would require the State Department to conduct an annual review to determine which nations do restrict the internet, and force internet companies to reveal exactly what it is they are censoring in those countries.

Smith pointed to the example of Yahoo helping China identify dissident Shi Tao by providing them with his email address. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

"It's taken my three years to get the bill to the point where it's out of the three committees, where it was referred to with active opposition from the internet companies who said they can self police," said Smith. "They haven't done anything about it."

Josh Zeitz, Smith's Democratic opponent, said that the boycott call was "political grandstanding."

While Zeitz emphasized that he and Smith fundamentally agree on the importance of human rights in China and elsewhere, he said that the Bush Administration's fiscal policies have weakened the hand of the United States to extract concessions from China, which holds much of our debt.

"He absolutely should not have voted down the line with George Bush for tax cuts for the rich and to fund the war that ultimately threw us into record deficits and debt, much of which is held by China," he said. "I think it's important to hold the Chinese Government to task, but we are in less of a position to do that than we were seven years ago, and that's because of the economic policy that Chris Smith has so enthusiastically endorsed."

Moreover, Zeitz said, boycotting the games will accomplish nothing politically, while athletes will suffer. He noted the United States' boycott of the Moscow games in 1980.

"None of these things ultimately ended the cold war," he said.

United States Rep. Donald Payne chaired an August hearing in which actress Mia Farrow called for a boycott, and has long been a critic of the Chinese policy of non-interference in Darfur. He even authored the resolution that called the Sudanese government's treatment of its Darfurian population genocide.

But while Payne agrees with Pelosi that President Bush ought not to attend the opening ceremonies, he hasn't made up his mind whether the athletes should boycott the games altogether.

"That is something that we're going to be coming up with a position on in their near future," he said. "We're urging the president not to attend the opening ceremonies."

Meanwhile, Smith's New Jersey Republican colleague in the House, Rep. Frank LoBiondo, wasn't prepared to call for an outright boycott, but did agree that President Bush shouldn't attend.

"I strongly support our athletes who have extensively trained and dedicated their lives for the opportunity to compete at the Olympics, and they should have that opportunity," he said. "However, the continued human rights violations against the Tibetan people by the Chinese government are reprehensible and inexcusable. Like several prominent European leaders, I believe President Bush should not attend the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics."

Representative Jim Saxton didn't commit to a boycott call, but said that he will continue to "consider House resolutions drawing attention to these issues."

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