Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Chinese junkets and political disconnect from reality

Barack Obama made a telling comment about politicians in his book The Audacity of Hope. The longer one is in office, he said, "the narrower the scope of your interactions.

"You may fight it with town-hall meetings and listening tours and stops by the old neighbourhood, but your schedule dictates that you move in a different orbit from most of the people you represent."

This comes to mind in the face of the obstinacy of the mayor of Toronto, David Miller, and the Ontario government, insisting on going to China when the rest of the world is rioting every time the Chinese militarily-guarded Olympic flame passes through a new city on its global "good will" tour.

I once was a member of a board of directors of an international organization that held annual meetings in different cities in the world. It was an honour competed for and, like the Olympics, a city applied and was awarded the right to host the event several years in advance. A few months before the meeting was to be held in Beijing, the Tiananmen Square massacre occurred. We switched the venue to another city in Europe on short notice. China put a lot of pressure on us to keep it in Beijing, but we rejected it.

This is a time to seriously consider boycotting the games, not trotting off on junkets that will only be used by the Chinese authorities as evidence that the Tibet business makes no difference to anyone outside China.

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