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As the turmoil in Tibet rages on, calls to boycott the Beijing Olympics have mounted. Beijing, of course, says it’s business as usual. The question is what other governments will do and, equally important, what the wide range of sponsors and hangers on will do.
On a personal level, I’m against a boycott of the Olympics. To me, the event is a celebration of individual achievement and the global village — a chance for young athletes to come together and compete against the best that the world has to offer. For many, it’s the only chance they’ve got. Politics is the ever-shifting backdrop. Jesse Owens’ gold medal in the 1936 Olympics is all the more memorable because he won it in Nazi Germany.
For business, a boycott would be destructive and hypocritical. Many companies are already tripping over each other to woo China’s 1.3 billion consumers. They are engaged in joint ventures that have them manufacturing equipment, selling services and otherwise actively doing business within the country. They rely on imports from China or may be exporting to there, too.
Many also point to signs of growing liberalization within China as the Communist regime seeks more affluence for its people and a larger role in the world economy. Are there still egregious affronts to individual liberty and other serious concerns about doing business there? Sure. I wasn’t exactly singing China’s praises as I packed up several Thomas trains this year for yet another lead paint recall. But engagement is a stronger catalyst for change than boycotts.
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