Thursday, November 15, 2007

Is the U.S. Bridge Federation pandering to Beijing censors?

A story in yesterday's New York Times about the U.S. Bridge Federation's proposed sanctions against members of the U.S. women's team deserves attention. These women are being punished for holding up a small hand-written sign that says "We did not vote for Bush" at the world bridge championships in Shanghai. The USBF justifies itself by saying that a private organization can "control the speech of people who represent them." Various bridge players quoted in the article found the sign offensive, but the motives of the USBF are not presented in this article. Certainly, partisan Bush supporters can be extremely defensive these days, but the sanctions imposed are very serious to the people involved, while the protest itself seems a bit mild (even Bush must know that many people voted against him). I think that something else is going on here.

The sort of thing that these women did demonstrates more clearly than just about anything else they could have done that they are people who are accustomed to freedom of speech. That is perceived as very dangerous in China, where the government is struggling to maintain censorship in a country with increasing ties to the rest of the world. Next August, thousands of people from all over the world will be coming to Beijing for the Olympics, and events like this one could erode the Chinese people's acceptance of government censorship. Furthermore, the USBF will be going back to China for the World Bridge Olympiad, and the sanctions proposed involve barring these players from that event.

I think that the USBF is motivated by the desire to maintain good relations with Beijing so that everything goes smoothly next year. While I consider it unlikely that they are responding to direct requests from the Chinese, I do think that they are trying to be good guests in a way that the Chinese understand. It's certainly clear to me which side of this debate is supportive of freedom and American values, and which side is working for the interests of government censorship worldwide. The article mentions a hearing to be held in San Francisco at the Fall North American Bridge Championships. The world will be watching to see just how free Americans really are. The USBF can do what is good for freedom, for America and even (by extension) George Bush, or they can do what's good for China and others all over the world who find freedom to be a dangerous idea.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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15/11/07 12:38  
Blogger Steve said...

I missed the USBF statement.

"This reflects a complete disregard for the fact that the Chinese government, which does not exactly have a history of sympathetic views toward political dissent, provided the bulk of financial support for both the 2007 World Championship and the 2008 World Bridge Olympiad."

I call that pandering. So, the USBF is openly pandering to Beijing censors. Is that better or worse than hypocrisy? I'm not sure, but it's certainly not supportive of freedom.

16/11/07 23:24  
Blogger Steve said...

AFP announced on Nov. 20 that the U.S. Bridge Federation has dismissed all charges.

2/12/07 18:12  
Blogger Black said...

Although I strongly agree that Chinese government has the bad reputation of censoring all kinds of political dissent, one point is missing here is that Chinese government does allow or even encourage speeches or demonstrations in its favor. In this case, I don't think what the US bridge players demonstrated did any harm to the Chinese government. Hence, USBF might have over-reacted.

It is possible that Chinese government might worry it leave the door open of similar action in the future if they allow or encourage such a behavior. Therefore, USBF decided to take action as a gesture not to offend the host.

But I do believe there is a rare possibility that USBF took action just simply because of the sign " we did not vote for Bush" so as not to offend the white house (or there might a pressure from white house or the majority of USBF officials are actually republicans). But they can't say that. I just feel it is more consistent for Chinese government to censor what they dislike but always allow or encourage what they do like.

2/5/08 11:30  

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