Will there be a boycott of the Beijing Olympics in 2008? This may not seem the right moment to ask such a question since the Chinese deserve some time to indulge themselves in the euphoria they understandably feel after Friday's decision. Nor should the posing of the question seem to imply criticism of the International Olympic Committee for awarding the 2008 Games to Beijing - I have been arguing in this newspaper's pages for some time that Beijing would be the only possible choice. Still, 2008 is a long way off and many difficult political situations could develop between now and then which would so affect the international atmosphere that the question of a boycott of the Olympics could arise. It was, after all, only thirteen years ago that the Soviet bloc boycotted the Los Angeles event after Western nations had cold-shouldered the 1984 Moscow games because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. These things can happen. Among the obvious crisis points that could arise are: a marked deterioration of the human rights situation in China; unprovoked Chinese aggression towards Taiwan; repression in Tibet or elsewhere; a serious trade war; mishandling of an incident such as the recent US spy-plane mishap. Thus far, the asumption has been that the Chinese government will be extremely anxious to avoid giving any ammunition to those who believe they should not have been awarded the Olympics - and that therefore the next seven years will probably be a time when a light hand will be employed on human rights issues and aggressive acts towards neighbours will be avoided. At the same time, however, it must be kept in mind that dissidents and aggressors inside and outside China will see this coming period as one in which they can risk being more open and active - safe in the belief that the Chinese government must be on its best behaviour.
The advantages for the whole world of Beijing having the chance to stage a successful Olympic Games are clear. However, it should be accepted that the responsibility for ensuring that this happens is not the Chinese government's alone.
Clarification of confusion?
The extent to which companies that provide Internet access can he held responsible for what appears on a web site continues to cause confusion.
In an important decision in the British courts last week the server companies received support for their own view of the limits on the control they can exercise.
In an earlier, and widely publicised judgement, an injunction had been granted against any publication - including by public computer networks - of the new identities and whereabouts, following their release from custody, of the Thompson and Venables boys who killed the toddler James Bulger eight years ago. At the time the injunction was thought to apply to the Internet as much as to the conventional media.
However, on appeal, the High Court ruled last week that the injunction was unfair to Internet service providers who should not, therefore, face automatic criminal sanctions if their customers were to publish information about Thompson and Venables.
The Court said, however, that a provider would still be in breach of the injunction if it had known that material was likely to published and had not taken steps to prevent that publication. As so often in judgements of this kind, it is not immediately apparent whether this represents a landmark decision recognising the Internet's freedom from national law or merely a minor relaxation which recognises the difference between the Internet and the press and TV.
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