Tibet’s Olympian opportunity
China has played into Tibet’s hands by hosting the Olympics. The Tibetan cause has never got as much attention from the world as it has now.
What surprises me is that the politically savvy China did not anticipate it. What about China’s Intelligence agencies? Could they not have sniffed out what was in the air? The Tibetans must have been planning this for months.
Perhaps China fell victim to its own propaganda. News about Tibet and the dissidence and hatred of the Chinese government in Tibet has been effectively suppressed in China. So much so that ordinary Chinese folk are not aware of the magnitude of the problem. And even where the government officials are concerned, most of them will see the whitewashed news. Sure, at one level they may know what’s happening but when one is not reminded of it daily through the news, it becomes easy to ignore it. Easy to use brute force to suppress dissidence. Easy to pretend that it’s a minor problem that can be handled…is it any wonder then China did not see what was coming?
China cannot control what happens outside and the Chinese government is finding out the hard way. It is certainly putting up a brave front but they are extremely humiliated. In fact the pompous statement of the Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice president of BOCOG, that “any attempts (to disrupt the torch relay)…will not win hearts and minds of people and therefore are doomed to failure” rings hollow now after the protests in Paris, London and San Francisco.
Just look at the facts:
In Paris, there was a lot of slogan-shouting from pro-Tibetan protestors. Thousands of armed police hovered around the venue and police patrol boats were pushed into service across the Seine. There were helicopters over the crowds and the media called the Olympic torch the “Torch of Shame.” The torch had to be hidden inside of a bus, and the flame extinguished multiple times to transport it!
In London, there were thousands of protesters. Some managed to break through the police and security cordons and tried to extinguish the flame with fire extinguishers! Here too the journey was cut short and the torch transported by bus.
In San Francisco, there was utter confusion. The torch relay was rerouted and shortened, the closing ceremony at the waterfront was canceled and moved to the Airport. The flame was placed on a plane and was not displayed! There was heavy security with the place swarming with police and SWAT teams and police officers on motorcycles and in vans. In fact even before the torch relay hundreds of protesters walked through the city’s streets signs and chanting “Shame on China.” The fact that San Francisco was chosen precisely because it has a large Chinese American population seemed to have backfired. Although many Chinese are pro- Beijing, there are sufficient numbers of anti-China protesters as well.
Sure, the Olympic flame had little trouble in Kazakhstan, Turkey and Russia, but that was to be expected. These countries do not have a significant Chinese or Tibetan presence. In any case these are countries with little sympathy for the Tibetan cause at the government level. For example the Russian Olympic Committee spokesman Gennady Shvets has clearly said that the Olympics and Politics do not mix. “The flies and the cutlet are separate” he said to CNN.
O.K, So now what? If there are protests in some of the western countries what does it mean? Does it mean that they will take up Tibetan cause with China once the Olympics are over?
I doubt it.
Take the Prime Minister of the U.K, Gordon Brown. He said that he would not attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic games in China, but at the same time he said that he was not boycotting it! Clearly the U.K. government is not going to get itself into a mess over Tibet.
And even if George Bush does skip the opening ceremony of the summer Olympics, he is going to make similar meaningless statements. Sure, the U.S. lawmakers did pass a resolution criticizing China for its “crackdown in Tibet and urging Beijing to hold direct talks with the Tibetan religious leader Dalai Lama on the future of the region” but it I doubt that this will continue after the Olympics is over.
So far the only gutsy person is this lady Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. She not just met exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama despite strong disapproval from Beijing, she has decided not go to the Olympics. Ms Merkel ignored her advisers who had told her to cancel the meeting rather than “incur the wrath of Beijing which could damage the two countries’ thriving business relationship.”
What about India?
Well, we like to believe that we are on Tibet’s side and like to give ourselves credit for the fact that we have given the Dalai Lama shelter for the last almost 50 years and the Tibetan government-in-exile is in India. India is also host to more than 100,000 Tibetans the largest number of Tibetans in any country except for Tibet itself. But we are playing both sides. For example, we did not allow a protest march of by 100 Tibetan exiles protesters who had planned to march from Dharamshala to Tibet’s border. Shamefully all these protesters were manhandled and thrown into jail. All they wanted to do was protest peacefully and as a democratic country we should have allowed it. But we are finding it difficult to withstand Chinese pressure. Looks like China does have control outside its own borders!
I admire our soccer star Baichung Bhutia, for refusing to carry the torch. Even Kiran Bedi, ex-IPS officer has refused to take part, after first committing herself to it. But I think the reason she gave (she said the massive security build-up had robbed the event of the spirit of freedom and harmony that the Olympics stands for) was a political and diplomatic one. Any non-sports person who carries the torch is likely to garner negative publicity and I wonder if Bedi realised that. Aamir Khan is carrying the torch but when he made the decision I’m sure he had no idea that it would get him negative publicity.
The torch will arrive in New Delhi in less than a week. Considering the large Tibetan population in India, a serious security problem is anticipated and well, the protesters are determined to disrupt the march. I can’t help but wish them the best of luck, because all they want to do is stop the march. They don’t intend to indulge in any violence. They are simply using the Olympics to draw attention to their cause. Which is not necessarily a separate homeland for Tibet, although some radicals demand this. It is important to remember that the Dalai Lama has agreed that Tibet is a part of China. All he is asking for is autonomy but the Chinese are not agreeable to this either.
All these protests are symbolic. They won’t stop the Olympics. Everyone knows the Olympics will go on. Why even the most powerful nations in the world are not going to boycott the games. And as to why the Olympics will roar on is explained very well by Allison Kilkenny of the Huffington Post. These are the reasons she gives:
(The first photograph is from telegraph.co.uk, the second from cnn.com, Aamir’s is from the bbc and the last from Huffington Post)