THE last time Beijing threatened to boycott an international sporting event, it pulled back from the brink after the host nation, Japan, persuaded Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui to stay away from the opening ceremonies of the 1994 Asian Games. Mainland leaders also admitted their reluctance to make a move which would have been so domestically unpopular, since it would have deprived China of the glory of seizing the lion's share of gold medals. It must be hoped that common sense will prevail again. In raising the spectre of a potential boycott of this summer's Atlanta Olympics, China is evidently trying to prevent any high-ranking Taiwanese leaders from being invited to attend. Such a strategy may well work since Taipei seems anxious to avoid further confrontations, as shown by President Lee's indication he would not accept an invitation to pay another US visit. But, even if no damage is ultimately done, it is still unfortunate to see Beijing mixing politics with sport in this way. During the Cold War, the Olympic movement was nearly destroyed by repeated boycotts caused by superpower rivalry. It had been hoped that era had passed. But China's insistence on conscripting every international sporting event into its campaign against Taipei threatens this. It is unclear how far this determination extends. Would Beijing boycott the Cannes Film Festival simply because Taiwanese films were being shown? This latest threat is a threat too far. Whatever differences there may be with the political leadership of Taiwan, Beijing has always encouraged people to people exchanges. The Olympics fall into that category. A boycott would contradict what has been China's consistent policy for more than a decade.