A Senate lawmaker accused the Chinese government on Thursday of ordering U.S.-owned hotels in China to install Internet filters that can spy on international visitors coming to see the Olympic Games.
Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican, made the charge at a news conference where he and other lawmakers denounced China's record of human rights abuses and urged President Bush not to attend the opening ceremonies in Beijing.
"This is wrong, it's against international conventions, it's certainly against the Olympic spirit," Brownback said. "The Chinese government should remove that request and that order."
Brownback said he has seen the language of memos received by at least two U.S.-owned hotels. He declined to name them and said he obtained the information from two "reliable but confidential sources" in the hope that public pressure would persuade the Chinese government to back off the demand.
China accused of human rights abuses
The senator called China "the foremost enabler of human rights abuses around the world" and said the Chinese government is turning the summer games into "an Olympics of oppression."
Beijing has said that its citizens' human rights are protected under the Chinese constitution, and that it welcomed renewed dialogue on the issue. But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao also has suggested the U.S. politicians were biased in their views.
"We hope relevant people, congressmen, can view our progress made in human rights objectively and take off their colored glasses. I believe that would be beneficial to the development of Chinese human rights," he said at a news conference in Beijing last month.
A telephone call to the Chinese Embassy for reaction Thursday was not immediately returned.
For years, critics in the U.S. Congress have taken China to task for what they describe as unfair trade practices; currency manipulation; use of the Internet to suppress dissidents; failure to use its leverage to stop violence in Sudan's Darfur region; and a rapid, secretive military buildup.
Other lawmakers at Brownback's news conference condemned the Chinese government for supporting repressive governments in Sudan and Burma, suppressing dissent in Tibet and forcibly returning North Korean refugees who flee across the border, where they face imprisonment and torture.
"The number one accomplice of the genocide in Darfur is the Chinese government," said Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican, "No official in the executive branch, in the judicial branch and particularly in the congressional branch ought to attend the opening ceremonies of this Olympics."
Persecution in China
More than a dozen former North Korean refugees who escaped to China and suffered beatings, imprisonment and other persecution at the hands of Chinese officials attended the news conference to discuss their plight.
While China wants the Olympics to be a sign of the country's growing prominence on the international stage, Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, said the country's actions confirm that "the Chinese people still live under an iron fist."
"The Chinese government was awarded the games on the understanding that it would work to significantly improve it's human rights record," Menendez said. "Clearly, it has not."
Brownback said he would press his case for Bush not to attend the Olympic opening ceremonies when the president visits a tornado-damaged city in his home state of Kansas on Sunday.
Thus far, Bush has given no indication he will skip the Beijing event.