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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Olympic city nationalists adopt Tibet as a weapon against China

April 27, 2008

Leo Lewis in Tokyo
The Times
April 26, 2008

The last time the Olympic torch found its way to the sleepy ski resort
of Nagano, its inhabitants remember a charming international jamboree
where people swapped lapel badges with complete strangers.

Today, as the troubled flame makes its journey through Nagano en route
to Beijing, the city is a very different place from a decade ago:
ultra-nationalists cruise the streets blaring messages of hate from
giant loudspeakers and an unprecedented army of secret police is under
orders to question all foreigners.

The Japanese Government knows that the Nagano leg of the relay is a
tinderbox quite unlike the other cities through which the torch has passed.

Relations between Beijing and Tokyo are somewhat warmer than in the
recent past but there is still a rich vein of straightforward
anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan that has nothing at all to do with Tibet
or human rights.

“Communist China dishonours the city of Nagano! Smash down the Beijing
Olympics!” screamed a rightwinger from behind the darkened windows of a
menacing “sound truck” daubed with nationalist insignia.

In an unlikely marriage of ideologies, the pro-Tibet cause has been
espoused vigorously by the ultra-nationalist right wingers of Japan. As
they marched through the streets - some in pseudo-military uniforms -
the incoherence of the two political views was obvious.

“China is not qualified to hold a festival of peace because it is a
country that murdered Tibetans,” shouted one orator. “We must establish
a true national army to protect against China,” bellowed another.

To the authorities, the arrival in Nagano of the right wing from around
the country poses a problem - especially since 2,000 Chinese students in
Japan are expected to be bussed in to cheer the flame as it passes by.

For domestic political reasons the Japan's Government refused publicly
to let the paramilitary-trained Chinese “flame attendants” run with the
torch as they had elsewhere in the world. Behind the scenes, says the
foreign ministry, a deal has been struck that will allow two of the
blue-tracksuited Chinese to run with the torch while Japan guarantees
overall security.

To avoid embarrassment Japan has taken its side of the bargain so
seriously that local residents say that they have, in effect, been
subjected to “Chinese-style” policing. Pro-Tibet demonstrators
complained bitterly that their rights to demonstrate had been suppressed
by nervous Japanese police.

Motoki Noike, from the Nagano chapter of Students for a Free Tibet,
said: “The message of the games should not just be for China to
strengthen security to make them successful but to solve the problems
that are causing the protests in the first place.” Beyond what Japan's
foreign ministry admitted was an “extreme” security cordon, there are
other contrasts with ten years ago.

When the Winter Olympics were held in Nagano in 1998, they were opened
by the ringing of the bell of the iconic Zenkoji temple; today's torch
relay begins from a soulless car park next to a Japan Self Defence Force
recruitment centre. Corporate sponsorship is all but invisible along the
streets, the atmosphere has been killed by the 3,000 police officers and
even the city's proudest residents describe the scene as downmarket.

The problem arises from the sudden refusal by the Buddhist priests of
the Zenkoji temple to let the relay start there - a reaction, they said,
to the “unforgivable violence” that took place in Tibet last month. The
priests plan to hold a memorial service for those who died in the
violence at the same time as the relay begins.

“The symbolism of starting the torch relay from the temple was because
it was where the Nagano Olympics began. There is now simply no meaning
to having the relay in this city,” said Seiko Hagiwara, who runs a
noodle restaurant at the temple gates.
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