Badminton and rhythmic gymnastics may be thrilling sports, but U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown cares about a different, equally competitive aspect of the 2008 Beijing Olympics - trade, labor, and human rights.
The Democrat said in an interview yesterday with The Blade that the international attention generated by the summer games is an opportunity to pressure China's centralized government to allow for free speech, improve factory conditions, and follow global environmental standards.
"This is a country that has consistently not played fair," said Mr. Brown, adding that any focus on these issues could spark reforms because the "Chinese don't react well to embarrassment."
When it comes to foreign relations, Mr. Brown often explains his position through the domestic consequences of U.S. policies. Since moving to the Senate from the U.S. House this year, Mr. Brown said his understanding of trade with China has become more sophisticated.
Agreements with China helped cause a $232 billion trade deficit and accelerated the displacement of American workers, he said. But unlike the government's more traditional path of reviewing trade regulations with China, Mr. Brown is emphasizing the significance of currency exchange rates and events such as the Olympics.
Although Mr. Brown suggested in the past that cultural engagement has not led to changes in China, he did not voice any desire yesterday for America to boycott the Olympics.
A boycott such as Jimmy Carter's refusal to send athletes to the 1980 Moscow Games would likely bother the Chinese government, said Chi Wang, president of the U.S.-China Policy Foundation in Washington.
"If the U.S. doesn't participate, the Olympics will be a flop," Mr. Wang said. "China understands that."
John Frisbie, president of the U.S.-China Business Council, disputed the potential role of the Olympics, saying that America's relationship with China depends more on the initiatives and negotiations being undertaken by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Mr. Brown visited Toledo to attend a roundtable at the American Legion post on West Alexis Road, the final leg of a statewide tour that included Canton, New Philadelphia, and Youngstown.
Although many of the veterans at the roundtable fought in World War II or Vietnam, the senator talked about the trouble with delivering medical services to them in the context of the ongoing Iraq conflict. He said President Bush's $83.29 billion budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs is short by $4 billion, or about two weeks of funding for Iraq.
"We ought to be looking 30-40 years down the road with the physical and psychological injuries," said Mr. Brown, explaining that the department should anticipate the health problems of soldiers returning with Iraq.
Many of the veterans at the table said their military duty left them with post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition rooted in the inherent stress and violence of warfare that Veterans Affairs helps to treat.
Robert Stewart, vice president of the Lucas County Veteran's Service Commission, told the senator that he figuratively returns to Vietnam whenever the TV news has stories about Iraq.
"It makes you relive it over and over," he said.
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