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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Playing the Games

March 26, 2008

http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1724021,00.html
By Joshua Kurlantzick
TIME Magazine
Thursday, Mar. 20, 2008

Even when he's not filming, Richard Gere knows how to do drama. In the
wake of the deadly protests in Tibet, Gere, a longtime Tibet activist
and friend of the Dalai Lama, made a splashy announcement. The Hollywood
star declared that "if [the protests] are not handled correctly, yes, we
should boycott [the Olympics]. Everyone should boycott."

Gere does have a point: the unrest in Tibet stems from years of brutal
Chinese religious, economic and political repression. And well before
Gere's statement, many other activists had called for a Games boycott,
for myriad reasons. Press watchdog Reporters Without Borders argued that
a boycott should be considered given China's jailing of journalists.
Darfur advocates Steven Spielberg, who recently withdrew as an artistic
adviser to the Games, and Mia Farrow have called for a boycott because
of China's Sudan links. "I find that my conscience will not allow me to
continue business as usual [with the Olympics]," Spielberg said in
February. Burmese activists have echoed the Darfur protesters, trying to
shame Beijing for its close ties to Rangoon. Even many top athletes are
now mulling a boycott.

Apart from in Tibet, China has clearly contributed to suffering in
Darfur and Burma; it is the main diplomatic protector of Khartoum and
Rangoon, and the major consumer of Sudanese oil. The Games are also
hurting the human-rights climate in China — Beijing has been rounding up
prominent activists before the Olympiad.

But a boycott would backfire miserably. Besides hurting athletes who
have spent years prepping for the Olympics, a boycott will cost
activists whatever ongoing leverage they have over China. Once a boycott
is declared, activists almost surely would lose any interaction with
Chinese officials, who would simply write them off. Through their
pressure, Darfur advocates have in fact won private meetings with
influential Chinese officials. In the past year China's stance on Sudan
has undergone a major shift. From ignoring complaints about its Sudan
links, China has appointed its own special envoy for Darfur and has sent
aid to the peacekeeping force in the conflict region. U.S. President
George W. Bush's former envoy to Sudan, Andrew Natsios, publicly praised
China's stance, and even Jill Savitt, director of the activist group
Dream for Darfur, acknowledged that Beijing has taken some measures to
reduce suffering in Sudan.

Only a combination of tough public shaming, which clearly tarnishes
China's valued global image, and private dialogue with Beijing, not
ostracism, can produce results. Indeed, by spotlighting China's abuses
in Xinjiang province, where there are policies as harsh as those in
Tibet, while quietly reaching out to Chinese officials, the Bush
Administration has won the release of leading Uighur dissidents.

Some foreign activists believe a boycott will gain support among Chinese
liberals, and a few Chinese rights activists such as lawyer Gao Zhisheng
agree. But most average Chinese, whatever their anger at Beijing's
repression, eagerly await the Olympics. Across China, nearly everyone I
have met is proud of the Beijing Games, and a boycott will only turn
them against the West. Without a doubt, China's state-controlled press
would play up this angle, using a boycott to demonize Western nations
and to fuel Chinese nationalism, the country's most potent, and
dangerous, political force. In January, the People's Daily previewed
this strategy, writing that China suffers "accusations from all over the
world, including misunderstandings, sarcasm and very harsh criticism"
over the Games. Shortly after Spielberg's withdrawal, Chinese bloggers,
among the most ardent nationalists, made the People's Daily sound tame
with their fury at the West.

Given that the Olympics are sparking Chinese pride, advocacy
organizations with some of the longest experience dealing with China,
such as the savvy International Campaign for Tibet, have harshly
criticized Beijing's rights record but have not called for a boycott.
Even the Dalai Lama has not advocated one, citing how important this
year's Games are to the Chinese people.

As China has become more powerful, it has boosted its leverage on the
world stage. Many nations, especially neighbors, are now reluctant to
cross Beijing. India, which once welcomed Tibetan exiles, including the
Dalai Lama himself, now restrains Tibetan protesters. Nepal has done the
same, sometimes brutally, and has indicated that it will clear and
secure the Everest route for the Olympic torch — thereby possibly
pre-empting anti-China protests. Twenty years ago, when China was
weaker, a boycott might have been possible, since other countries could
ignore Beijing. Today, the world needs China, with all its warts, to
help solve diplomatic crises from North Korea to Sudan, to power the
ailing global economy and to help bring stability to its neighborhood.
Today, China can no longer be ignored.
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