Monday, April 14, 2008

Tibet and the Olympics

Our family receives all of our news from The Economist - both the magazine and the online versions. It never fails to amaze me, each time I see it available on a newstand, each time a story on Tibet opens on my computer. I don't know how this magazine has the clout to overcome the Chinese censors, when the government does not even allow guidebooks on China to be sold because they include factual histories of Tibet.

As I said, The Economist is our only source of news. We do not subscribe to the local paper, although there is one available in English. We do not listen to the local news, although CCTV9 does run public broadcasting in English. I did both for a few weeks upon our arrival, but found both laughable. The apparent lack of criticism or open dialogue seemed ridiculous at the time.

The Economist has been running articles on Tibet lately. I get the impression that Tibet has been a presence in world news lately - that I wouldn't know about. One of those articles is included below, about China's reaction to recent protests for Tibet.

The interesting dynamic to this entire conflict is that the people of China may well have no idea that any of this is happening. Chinese people have been told that Tibetans are much better off, that the government is bringing schools and hospitals, teachers and doctors, roads and engineers to their land and helping to develop their people. The Chinese people do not understand why the Tibetans should be so ungrateful.

But further. The Olympics is to be a grand display of China, the display that this country has regained its rightful and historical place as a world leader. There is great pride among Chinese nationals about the upcoming Olympics.

Match together these three dynamics. Most people are:
1 - Lacking factual information about the situation in Tibet;
2 - Filled with pride surrounding the upcoming Olympics;
3 - Completely oblivious to the world's disapproval.

Rather than a great show of power, this Olympics could be a massive loss of face for this country. In China, nothing is worse than a loss of face.

Tibet and the Olympics: A flaming row
Apr 9th 2008 from

IT IS still four months before athletes gather in Beijing for the
Olympics, but already the games are embroiled in controversy as protests grow
over human-rights abuses in Tibet. The immediate concern for China’s government
and for the international Olympic movement is that preparations for a showcase
sporting event are being disrupted by political confrontation, which could lead
to protests or boycotts of the games themselves. The pressing desire for
pro-independence campaigners in Tibet, where an ongoing crackdown by Chinese
authorities has claimed more lives in recent weeks, is to take advantage of the
opportunity to garner world attention for their cause.

Gradually the voices speaking out about Tibet are growing louder. On
Wednesday April 9th Australia’s prime minister, Kevin Rudd, a friend of China
and fluent Mandarin speaker on his first trip to the country since taking
office, used a speech to students in Peking University to talk of “significant
human-rights problems” in the region. He called, too, for dialogue between
China’s government and the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama.

Rudd’s comments followed days of protests in Athens, London, Paris and San
Francisco, as the Olympic torch was taken on a world tour to promote the Beijing
games. As the Olympic flame was carried through those cities, guarded by
thuggish-looking security guards in blue tracksuits, it quickly became the focus
for criticism of China over its repressive rule in Tibet. Police in London
arrested three dozen Tibet-independence campaigners as the celebrities and
athletes carrying the flame were hidden behind a phalanx of guards. In Paris a
giant banner was hung from the Eiffel Tower showing the five Olympic rings as
handcuffs, another adorned Notre Dame cathedral. Police again made several
arrests. President Nicolas Sarkozy called the parade “a bit sad”. It is becoming
worse than that: an embarrassment to both China and to the Olympic movement.

Olympic officials would now like to abandon the rest of the flame’s
world tour, foreseeing that protests are likely to worsen. Already in San
Francisco, where the parade continues on Wednesday, protesters have strung
banners from the Golden Gate Bridge. Nastier and perhaps bloodier demonstrations
might come elsewhere, for example when the flame reaches Delhi, in India, or
possibly in Canberra, Australia.

China has the power to ease the unfolding public-relations disaster.
One step would be to cancel the rest of the torch’s international tour. More
substantial would be to scrap the parading of the torch in Tibet—something seen
as intensively insensitive by Tibetans who consider China’s rule to be
oppression by a foreign power. More substantial yet would be for China’s
government to allow more democratic freedoms, including peaceful protests, in
Tibet and elsewhere.

Instead China’s leaders, in public at least, perhaps not grasping how
quickly dismay over the Olympics is growing, are refusing to bend. The
Beijing-backed governor of Tibet, Qiangba Puncog, has said that the torch will
still be brought to Tibet and has given warning that any who try to obstruct its
progress face “severe” punishment.

The official media have portrayed the disruptions in London and Paris
as marginal displays of discontent by violent activists amid overwhelming shows
of support. A state television report aired a brief comment by Paula Radcliffe,
a British marathon runner, in which she endorsed the importance of the
protesters’ cause while condemning their methods. The Chinese subtitle, however,
mistranslated her remarks such that the endorsement was removed. The sinister
torch-protection team has been called “valiant and heroic” by China’s media.
Official reports say the squad is composed of officers from the People’s Armed
Police who have been training for this role since last August.

The problem for China, however, is that public protests could grow in
the coming weeks and lead to boycotts of the games themselves—or at least of the
opening ceremony. Hillary Clinton, a Democratic contender for the presidency in
America, now says that George Bush should stay away. Mr Sarkozy says he will
wait to decide whether to travel. Growing public anger, stoked by protests along
the torch’s route, could make the Olympics a bigger trial for China’s government
than it had bargained for.

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