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Dalai Lama has a powerful hand

March 21, 2008

by David Williamson,
Western Mail
Mar 20 2008

THE Dalai Lama possesses the power to snuff out China’s Olympic torch.

Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg all hope to meet the Tibetan
spiritual leader on his next visit to the UK.

He wants China out of Tibet. The tight grip the Communist superpower has
on his nation is, he fears, squeezing the life of its distinctive
culture. But he hasn’t called for a boycott of the Olympics. Instead, he
calls on China to become a worthy host.

This is a devastatingly powerful tactic. If he had announced support for
Tibetan insurgents or called for the games to be abandoned he would have
been a lone voice shouting on a distant mountain.

Instead, he is beginning to enjoy the clout that Desmond Tutu had when
condemning the apartheid regime. Rather than matching the worst actions
of his oppressors, he exhibited a graciousness they were first shamed by
and then inspired into imitating.

Since the passing of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa and the
retirement of Billy Graham, Tutu and the Dalai Lama have become the
world’s pre-eminent religious celebrities – as demonstrated by the
hat-trick of party leaders queuing up for a photo-op.

This means that in his decades-long poker game with China, the Dalai
Lama now possesses a remarkably powerful hand.

By not urging athletes to boycott the games at this time, he has
established there could be a time to do so in the near future if the
Tibetan crackdown continues.

Now that Steven Spielberg has abandoned his participation in Beijing
2008 there is a precedent for not getting on the plane. Who could put on
their tracksuit and not feel selfish and ridiculous if the world has
seen pictures of beatings and the Dalai Lama has asked the world’s
athletes for a show of solidarity?

This is the situation China has been desperate to avoid. It wanted to
use the games to cement its position as a proud and prosperous country
poised to define the century.

Unlike Zimbabwe, it has not starved its population but lifted millions
out of poverty. Unlike Russia, it has modernised without handing power
to oligarchs and does not wave its missiles at the West.

Unlike Sudan, it has not overseen a purge of ethnic groups, and unlike
Yugoslavia its many component states have not splintered in a bloodbath.

Like the Olympians in training today, its people are working hard and
motivated by a clear vision of success on the global stage.

Will the games be a flash of glory or a globe-transfixing crucible of
embarrassment and scandal? The Dalai Lama and the Chinese government
will have to strike a deal, and there is unlikely to be a photo-call.
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