Boycotts and Brickbats

The Liberal Democrats – never ones to fail to jump on a bandwagon just as everyone else is realising that it is a pointless exercise – have written to Gordon Brown asking him to boycott the Olympics opening ceremony. They have joined the clamour for action to be taken over Tibet, Darfur and China’s generally poor human rights record.
Steven Spielberg has already said his conscience would not allow him to oversee the opening ceremony and Mia Farrow has said she will not participate in the 400m (or something).
But what’s going on here? Something shortsighted at best – hypocritical at worst – it seems. China tends not to respond when people scream at it or stand in front of tanks. It listens politely and then continues on its way, snapping up vast amounts of minerals from anyone that has them and sending container loads of cheap, manufactured goods in return.
So while we are busy trying to give China a bloody nose at the Olympics, the trade goes on. Starving its economy – now that’s what would really hurt China. But that’s not what anyone wants to do because we are already far too reliant on the cheap trainers and electronics coming the other way.
By far the best analysis of why a boycott is “a solution in search of a problem” is by Christopher Caldwell in the FT:

A boycott of the Olympic opening ceremonies might cause China brief embarrassment and deprive it of a vanity-enhancing spectacle. It would allow westerners to protest while continuing to benefit from China’s cheap exports and big markets. But it would not change the objective realities one whit.

And, for anyone who’s wondering, I got my travel permit late on day 9.