Obama Conflicted On Olympics In China

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill., speaks at a town hall meeting at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Tuesday, April 1, 2008. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) AP

Sen. Barack Obama said he is conflicted about whether the U.S. should be a full participant in this summer's Olympics in Beijing because of China's human rights record.

"I am of two minds about this," the Democratic presidential hopeful said in an interview Wednesday on CBS News' The Early Show. "On the one hand, I think that what has happened in Tibet, China's support for the Sudanese government in Darfur, is a real problem."

Still, Obama said, "I am hesitant to make the Olympics a site of political protest because I think it's partly about bringing the world together." (.)

Obama also expressed concern about Chinese trade practices.

"I am a strong believer in free trade, but I think that we have not been very savvy negotiators when it comes to China," Obama told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "I think they've played us. They definitely are stealing our intellectual property, and that has direct consequences in terms of the bottom lines for businesses here in the United States."

Obama made the comments during a campaign swing through Pennsylvania, where he is trailing in the polls to Sen. Hillary Clinton. Obama is hoping record voter registration and people who have switched parties will boost his chances, reports Smith, who talked to Obama on the campaign bus.

Tibetans frustrated with Chinese rule rioted in the streets of Lhasa on March 14, and protests then spread to other parts of China. The Chinese government says 22 people died in violence; Tibetan exiles say the violence and a harsh crackdown afterward left nearly 140 people dead.

The events called attention to Beijing's human rights record in the Himalayan region at a time when Chinese leaders had hoped for a peaceful run-up to the Olympics.

On Tuesday, 15 House members urged President Bush to reconsider his decision to attend the Beijing Olympics. Their letter cited the crackdown in Tibet, the Beijing government's close economic ties with the government of Sudan and recent suppression of religious and human rights advocates.

In February, Hollywood director Steven Spielberg withdrew as an artistic adviser to the Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies over China's support for the Sudan government.
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