Unless you’ve spent the whole of the Year of the Rat thus far on a desert island, you will already know that Steven Spielberg has stepped down from his position as artistic advisor for the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. (His involvement was noted here in a previous note.)
Darfur. More specifically, the fact that the Chinese government “should be doing more to end the continuing human suffering” of the Sudanese people at the hands of it’s own government. The Chinese government have come under particularly strong criticism for failing to prevent the atrocities in Darfur because of their particularly strong economic, military and diplomatic ties with the Sudanese authorities.
What this means…
…For the opening and closing ceremonies; probably very little. By his own admission Spielberg has not even signed the contract given to him by the BOGOC almost a year ago, and according to Richard Spencer of the The Telegraph he has only been to Beijing once since his appointment. This hardly demonstrates commitment to the role. The responses of the authorities we will get to shortly, but it is worth noting that they all emphasise that preparations for the ceremonies are still running smoothly. It seems that Zhang Yimou, Spielberg’s friend and fellow superstar-director, will be capable to orchestrating the events.
…For the Olympic organisers; a bigger headache. Although anticipation has been rife for protests surrounding the Olympics, from the many parties with objections to the CCP’s policies, this is the most high profile defection from someone involved in the Games. Will this set a precedent for others? It has certainly put extra wind in the sales of groups like Team Darfur – a group of athletes who like Spielberg want China to use it’s influence to end the crisis in Sudan.
The official response
The official response has expressed regret at Mr Spielberg’s decision, promised that “excellent” ceremonies will be presented to the world despite this decision, and reminded observers that “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”. Pretty standard, and well put.
A slightly more contentious aspect of the statements is that “The Chinese government has made unremitting efforts to resolve the Darfur issue, an obvious fact to the international community which holds unprejudiced opinions on this issue”. For those who don’t know, China’s general rule in terms of foreign policy since the 1980’s has been one of non-intervention; not to interfere with another country’s internal affairs. This is in opposition to the Western ‘moral guardian’ role that has been fronted by the United States for over 50 years, and has lead to many interventions in a range of circumstances around the world. It seems that China is now having to weigh-up its new role as an emerging superpower.