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"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."

Olympics Boycott Chatter Grows as Tibet Unravels: William Pesek

March 22, 2008

Commentary by William Pesek

March 21 (Bloomberg) -- It has been a rough year so far for conventional
wisdom on China.

One supposedly irrefutable truth was that China wouldn't allow stocks to
plunge. Tell that to investors watching shares slump to eight-month
lows. The CSI 300 index is down 25 percent this year, and it's only March.

Another is that China won't overheat. Tell that to economists analyzing
what the biggest inflation increases in 11 years mean for stability in a
nation of 1.3 billion people.

The latest bit of conventional wisdom to be challenged is that the Aug.
8-24 Olympics would proceed with the precision of a referee's stopwatch.
Tell that to a world getting antsy about events in Tibet, which are
compounding China's already festering wound from its support of the
regime in Sudan, where the government is accused of aiding genocide in
the Darfur region.

``The latest outbreak of violence in western provinces, but mainly in
Tibet, suggests that social unrest could simmer into more visible signs
of discontent before August,'' says Glenn Maguire, chief Asia economist
at Societe Generale SA in Hong Kong.

An explosion of what the Dalai Lama, Tibet's Buddhist spiritual leader,
calls ``resentment built up by years of repression'' from China is
making headlines around the globe. Tibetan exiles say about 100
protesters have been confirmed killed in the past week by security
forces and many more may have died amid pro-independence rallies.

Olympic Boycott?

As the world grapples with how to respond, a novel suggestion for a
mini-boycott of the Olympics by VIPs at the opening ceremony is making
the rounds. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, a founder of
Doctors Without Borders, said the idea is ``interesting.''

Reporters Without Borders is urging heads of state, heads of government
and members of royal families to boycott the Aug. 8 opening ceremony.

A broader Olympics boycott keeping athletes from competing in Beijing is
extremely remote. Yet the fact such a discussion is even taking place is
a black eye for China, reducing the Communist Party's hopes of getting
more propagandist mileage out of the event.

China blames Tibet for the unrest. Tibet's Communist Party chief Zhang
Qingli said the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Dalai Lama ``is a wolf in
monk's robes,'' according to the Tibet Daily. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao
complains Tibetan protesters are just trying to undermine the Olympics.

Asking for It

Perhaps, yet China asked for it. It bid aggressively for the Olympics
and argued the games would hasten the development of human rights. Tell
that to imprisoned activist Hu Jia, whom Reporters Without Borders calls
a ``prisoner of the Olympic Games.''

Officials in Beijing say activists shouldn't politicize the summer
games, even though Chinese authorities have used them for political gain
all along. Anyone who thinks Beijing 2008 is about sports isn't being
realistic.

Activists had already been trying to label the summer games the
``Genocide Olympics.'' As Sudan's biggest trading partner, weapons
provider and protector at the United Nations, China has a responsibility
to help ease violence in Darfur. Tibet raises the stakes and the specter
of another Tiananmen Square if China's crackdown continues.

Shame on the International Olympic Committee for not speaking out on
Tibet. If the quid pro quo for getting the games was improved human
rights, the IOC got suckered. By turning a blind eye to Tibet, the IOC
is tacitly giving China a green light to crush dissenters before the
Olympics.

Tibet's Plight

The IOC doesn't have a monopoly on hypocrisy here. Why aren't Westerners
so quick to celebrate Kosovo's independence championing Tibet's cause?
How come countries that condemned Myanmar's clampdown on monks last year
aren't outraged?

China is different, of course. No one wants to cross the leaders of an
economy that today produces many of the world's consumer goods and
represents a massive market of tomorrow. That's why the U.S. will invade
Iraq to foster democracy, while praying that already democratic Taiwan
doesn't rock the boat.

Then there are those paying millions of dollars to be linked with
Beijing's Olympics. Adidas AG, Coca-Cola Co., McDonald's Corp.,
Panasonic, Samsung Electronics Co., Swatch Group AG and other sponsors
should do more to encourage restraint in Tibet. Otherwise, their images
could be tarnished, along with Beijing's.

2008 Sponsors

Just look at how human-rights groups went after Berkshire Hathaway
Inc.'s Warren Buffett to end investments in PetroChina Co. because of
its parent company's interests in Sudan. Olympic sponsors could be in
for an interesting year.

China is learning that the way it deals with domestic problems won't cut
it with the international community -- or in the age of YouTube.
Millions around the world have seen the March 2 video clip of Icelandic
singer Bjork on a Beijing stage shouting ``Tibet! Tibet!'' during a song
about independence.

Activists such as Mia Farrow and those distancing themselves from the
Olympics in protest -- including Steven Spielberg -- have a free press
with which to champion their causes. That means the Olympics may end up
being less of a coming-out party for China than for its repressive policies.

Long before unrest flared in Tibet, China chose the Olympics slogan
``One World, One Dream.'' If China isn't careful, headline writers will
be tempted to edit it to ``One World, One Nightmare.''

(William Pesek is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are
his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: William Pesek in Tokyo at
wpesek@bloomberg.net
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