Hillary Clinton has called on President Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. The odds of Bush heeding Clinton are about the same as him listening to Nancy Pelosi on this subject, which is to say nil. Clinton’s call has little to do with Sino-U.S. relations or even the Games themselves and everything to do with the presidential campaign. Clinton is trailing and in need of a pop. For at least one news cycle the boycott call gave her that. It’s worth noting, as Ben Smith did over at Politico, that the New York senator’s announcement comes immediately after Mark Penn’s departure from her campaign. There aren’t many votes to be won in U.S. elections playing nice with China. But the people motivated by tough talk on China? You can get a sense of that by watching the protests in San Francisco. On Monday a group of Tibet activists hung a banner across the Golden Gate bridge, and large demonstrations are expected during the torch run Wednesday.
Clinton’s announcement was well timed to coincide with the coverage of the U.S. leg of the torch run. It will be interesting to see whether her move will lead to an escalation of rhetoric about China by either Barack Obama or John McCain, who have also been tough on Beijing. Of course, what happens after a new president takes office next year will be completely different. Strident comments about China tend to backfire. Recall in 2001, when Bush said he would do “whatever it takes” to defend Taiwan. After that hubbub, the president has been much more nuanced in his approach to China. Indeed, after director Steven Spielberg said he was withdrawing from his role as a creative adviser to the Games’ opening ceremonies, Bush said he would still attend, noting that he has “a little different platform” for communicating with Beijing.