Prisoner truce could earn China a pardon

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2008, 12:00am

The Olympic torch relay over the past few weeks has done the opposite of what was intended. Instead of focusing attention on China's achievements over the past three decades, and its return to its rightful place in the world, the publicity has been largely negative and has damaged Beijing's international image.

This has also affected companies that do business with China, including the Olympic sponsors. In fact, while Beijing continues to insist that sports and politics should not mix, it is evident that business has become increasingly politicised.

French retailer Carrefour, for example, was the subject of a boycott in China supposedly because of its support for the Tibetan independent movement. Its chairman, Jose Luis Duran, has denied giving support to the Dalai Lama, and his statements have been welcomed by the central government. Other companies, too, have been forced to take a political stand.

Undeniably, there is an urgent need to salvage China's reputation, that of the Beijing Olympics and its corporate sponsors, too. The central government needs to do something dramatic that will seize the imagination of the whole world, much as the ascent of the Olympic torch to the top of Mount Everest was supposed to do.

And there is something that China can do, that would result in a dramatic improvement not only to its own image but also to that of the Games, as well - and to all the companies that are corporate sponsors.

In 2000, the International Olympic Committee decided to revive the ancient concept of the Olympic Truce: in 9BC, three kings signed a treaty to guarantee safe passage to athletes, artists and their families to and from the Games. In reviving the Olympic Truce, the IOC hoped, among other things, to raise awareness and encourage political leaders to act in favour of peace, as well as mobilise young people for the promotion of the Olympic ideals.

Now China has an opportunity, if it wishes, to start a new tradition by declaring an Olympic pardon or an Olympic amnesty for long-serving prisoners who are no longer a danger to society.

This has been proposed by John Kamm, executive director and founder of the Dui Hua Foundation in San Francisco, who has written to Wu Bangguo , chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

'China has an historic opportunity to be the first Olympics host to do so,' Mr Kamm wrote, 'thereby leaving an important humanitarian legacy for future hosts.' An Olympic pardon would be a natural expression of the Olympic Truce ideal.

A similar idea was suggested last December by a Chinese scholar, Liu Renwen , of the Institute of Law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. In an article in the Southern Weekend newspaper in Guangzhou, Mr Liu suggested that 2008 could become 'China's Pardon Year'.

The Dui Hua Foundation's proposal is that the Olympic pardon would apply to 'long-serving prisoners who no longer pose a threat to society and are nearing the end of their sentences'.

If the central government likes this idea, it would have to decide how to apply the pardon and who would benefit. The Hong Kong government, too, should back this suggestion. With over 1,000 Hong Kong residents in prison on the mainland, several hundred may well benefit if Beijing were to accept the proposal.

This is a novel idea that deserves serious consideration by China. In one stroke, it would help change the world's image of the country from that of a hardline government to one that has the best interests of its people at heart, including those serving prison terms. It is possible that such a gesture would so capture the public imagination that it would become a tradition for each host nation to declare an Olympic pardon.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator