Join our Mailing List

"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Tibet and the Beijing Olympics

March 28, 2008

A sporting chance
Mar 27th 2008
 From The Economist print edition

It is not time for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics. Yet

BERLIN, Tokyo, Mexico, Moscow, Los Angeles, Seoul: the Olympic games are
often “political” events, occasions for the flaunting of national
progress, or for protesters to enjoy global publicity. The Beijing
Olympics this August were never going to be any different. Indeed, when
it competed for the right to play host to the games, China used a
political argument: that this would help China's “reform and opening”.
But the games are now overshadowed by the spectre of nationalist unrest
in Tibet and China's unyielding response to it. In some Western
countries there have been calls for governments to back a boycott of the
games. To heed such calls now would be misguided.

It would not only be counterproductive, encouraging a more intense
frenzy of the xenophobic Chinese nationalism foreign reporting of events
in Tibet has already provoked (see, for example, some of the comments on
our own website). It would also mean relinquishing one of the best
levers the outside world has had in recent years over China's
government: its obsession with making a success of the Beijing Olympics.

It is now plain that this month's rioting in Lhasa was not an isolated
venting of anti-Chinese spleen (see article). It was part of a broader
outpouring of fury felt across the Tibetan plateau. China has responded
in time-worn, depressing fashion: with massive numbers of troops; with
the trundling out of Cultural Revolution-era political invective (“The
Dalai Lama is a jackal wrapped in a habit, a monster with human face and
animal's heart.” For pity's sake); and with the exclusion of the foreign
press from affected areas. But it has not quelled all protest, nor
suppressed news of clashes, in some of which Chinese troops have opened
fire. In the age of the mobile phone and internet, photographic evidence
soon circles the globe.

That is one reason for China's relative restraint, compared with the
last big protests it faced in Lhasa, in 1989, and indeed in Beijing
later that year. But the Olympics are another. China may rail against
those seeking to “politicise” a sporting occasion. But it knows that it
has itself introduced the most political elements: a torch relay taking
the Olympic flame round the world and, provocatively, through Tibet; and
an opening ceremony to which it has invited the world's leaders.

The eternal flame

Outside China, the torch relay will attract protests about Tibet, about
the suppression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, and about China's
links with Sudan and Myanmar. China will be confronted with the anger
felt by ordinary citizens. And, if it does not moderate its behaviour,
it will face the risk that foreign statesmen—as France's Nicolas Sarkozy
has already threatened—may find it politically impossible to attend the
opening ceremony. China's big party may be a damp squib. Beyond that, it
risks foreign governments leading a sporting boycott, devaluing all
those medals its athletes will win.

Already, the Olympics seem to have encouraged modest changes in China's
policy towards Sudan and Myanmar. They may have influenced this week's
decision to give Chinese internet users access to the BBC's website.
This hardly amounts to the reformist surge optimists hoped the Olympics
might bring. But it does suggest that at least some Chinese leaders
recognise that it is their behaviour, not that of foreign governments,
that will determine the success of the Beijing games.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank