Join our Mailing List

"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Olympic torch draws European outrage over Tibet

April 8, 2008

REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen
By Sharon Schmickle
Monday, April 7, 2008

The curtain is up on a chaotic drama China didn't want the world to see
when it proudly set the stage for hosting the summer Olympics this year.

As news broke over the weekend of yet another deadly Chinese crackdown
over Tibet, thousands of European human-rights advocates met the Olympic
torch with outrage. And Americans prepared to do the same on Wednesday.

More ominous for China is a separatist challenge erupting from the
nation's Muslims, who are emboldened by the sympathy Tibet is gathering
around the world.

Much as China scrambles to close the curtain, outsiders have a fresh
understanding of the regional and ethnic differences seething in that
vast and complex nation. What isn't clear is how China can control them
in a globalized future where dissidents will be empowered with new
communications technology.

In terms of global stability, the stakes are high. And they help explain
why Western leaders, including President Bush, are tiptoeing around
questions of their participation in China's Olympic ceremonies. Of
course, China's economic clout is a prime motivator.

Torch ignites protest

Shortly after Olympic torch bearers set off from the Eiffel Tower in
Paris Monday, protests over China's crackdown on Tibet forced organizers
to extinguish the flame twice and rush the torch into a bus to protect
it from demonstrators, Reuters reported.

On Sunday, thousands of protesters clashed repeatedly with British
police and Chinese security guards along the 31-mile Olympic torch
parade through London, the Guardian reported.

A protester tried to wrestle the Olympic flame from a celebrity torch
bearer. Two others tried to put out the torch with a fire extinguisher.
Several threw themselves in front of the runners. Thousands waved
banners proclaiming "Torch of Shame" and "Stop the Killing in Tibet."
Thirty-five were arrested.

"On two occasions when the flame was supposed to be carried on foot — at
Bloomsbury Square and Fleet Street — it was instead placed inside a red
bus, apparently to shield it from demonstrators breaking police lines,"
the Guardian reported.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown greeted the torch outside 10 Downing Street
despite intense political pressure for him to withhold official
recognition. Throngs of Olympic enthusiasts turned out to honor the
torch as heavy snow fell on London.

The only scheduled North American stop for the torch is Wednesday in San
Francisco, and Tibetans living in Minnesota are expected to join
human-rights advocates from around the nation in protests there.

China has clamped down security since anti-government protest erupted in
Tibet three weeks ago, and news from the remote Himalayan region is
limited. But the Associated Press reported over the weekend that eight
pro-Tibet demonstrators were killed when police opened fire on a protest
in Sichuan province.

The information was attributed to overseas activist groups. But the
Communist Party boss of Tibet said the region is stable, the Associated
Press reported.

Chinese authorities say 22 people have died in anti-Beijing riots in
Lhasa, Tibet's traditional capital. The Tibetan self-proclaimed
government-in-exile says up to 140 were killed in the protests and
ensuing crackdown. Beijing has repeatedly accused the Dalai Lama and his
supporters of orchestrating the violence, a charge the spiritual leader
has repeatedly denied.

The protests are the longest and most sustained challenge to Beijing
since Chinese communist troops occupied Tibet in 1951. China says it has
ruled Tibet for centuries, although many Tibetans say their homeland was
essentially an independent state for most of that time.

Trouble next door

Ethnic unrest is mounting next door to Tibet in China's northwestern
Xinjiang region, where Muslims' resentment over Beijing rule has
smoldered for decades.

Now, the situation in Xinjiang is highly volatile, the Wall Street
Journal reported Saturday.

Activists with the Uighurs, a large Muslim group, told the Journal that
China has been detaining suspected dissidents in the region, which
shares a long border with Tibet.

"Tensions had already been building," the Journal reported. "Chinese
officials say they arrested a Uighur woman last month who was part of a
failed Muslim separatist plot to hijack a Chinese jetliner. In February,
Chinese police also raided what they said was a meeting of Islamic
terrorists and shot and killed two men and arrested 15 others near
Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi."

Xinjiang is strategically critical for China. It accounts for a sixth of
the nation's territory. It is an important oil-producing region and home
to China's nuclear-weapons test sites. It also has more than 5,600
kilometers (3,480 miles) of borders with eight neighboring states, the
Journal said.

The cause of Uighur human rights has drawn far less international
attention than that of Tibetans, thanks in part to celebrity backing for
Tibet and the charisma of the Dalai Lama. Another factor, Uighur
human-rights advocates told the Journal: Uighurs are predominantly
Muslim. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States,
China has sought to portray its battle against Uighur-rights campaigners
as a fight against Islamic terrorism.

Now, the Tibetan protests and the pending Beijing Olympics are spurring
Uighurs abroad to speak out — and to link their aspirations to those of
Tibetans. Thursday, hundreds of Uighur demonstrators gathered in
Istanbul for an anti-China protest.

The broad swath of unrest catches Beijing between its desire to appear
reasonable to the outside world and its tendency to come down hard when
feeling threatened, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

But too much has changed for the emerging world power to completely
revert to the Communist Party playbook of old, analysts told the Times.

"China is facing some traditional challenges and new types of
conditions," said Shen Dingli, a professor at Shanghai's Fudan
University. "This is forcing it to deal with this mixture and adapt."

Although part of the leadership has shut out the rest of the world,
other parts are under pressure to convey at least the appearance of
openness, recognition that China increasingly needs the outside world
for economic growth, diplomatic acceptance and even domestic political

Sharon Schmickle writes about foreign affairs and science. She can be
reached at sschmickle [at] minnpost [dot] com.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank