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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."

Fanning the flames

April 27, 2008

JOHN CHERIAN
Frontline ~~ Volume 25 - Issue 09 :: April 26-May. 09, 2008

In India and most of the world, public opinion has not been swayed by
the West’s machinations to politicise the Olympic Games.


AS the Olympic torch making its historic journey to Beijing passed
through New Delhi on April 17, the authorities foiled attempts by
hundreds of Tibetans and their supporters to disrupt its relay. India
hosts more than 100,000 Tibetans, most of them owing allegiance to the
Dalai Lama. But to ensure foolproof security, the Indian authorities had
to virtually shut down central Delhi for half a day and shorten the
relay to two kilometres. There was a 32-km run during the last Olympics
held in Athens. The Tibetan separatist groups were allowed to protest
freely outside the security perimeter. In Mumbai, to coincide with the
torch relay, some Tibetans made an abortive attempt to storm the Chinese
Consulate.

Eminent sports and film personalities participated in the Olympic torch
relay. Very few sportsmen heeded the call for a boycott of the Olympic
flame. The Bharatiya Janata Party and a few other political parties in
India came out in support of the “Free Tibet” activists and criticised
the security measures the government had introduced to prevent any
untoward or embarrassing incident. In Paris, protesters briefly seized
the Olympic flame from a wheelchair-bound Chinese athlete.

In early April, when the Olympic torch made its way through Europe and
the United States, there were orchestrated protests aimed at disrupting
the Beijing Olympic Games scheduled to open on August 8. The “journey of
harmony” of the symbolic Olympic torch through London, Paris and San
Francisco was marred by violent protests organised by anti-Chinese
groups. Among the protesters in the U.S. and Europe were pro-Tibetan
activists and supporters of the Falun Gong sect, which is banned in
China. Lending a hand to the demonstrators protesting against the
holding of the Olympics in Beijing were groups opposed to China’s
policies in Darfur and Myanmar. The Western media have been giving
saturation coverage to the demonstrations, which, though vociferous, had
managed to attract only limited public participation.

The anti-China demonstrations got more coverage than even the 2003
demonstrations against the war in Iraq when more than a million people
marched on the streets of major cities. The efforts to associate human
rights issues with the Beijing Olympics got a major fillip when major
show business personalities such as Steven Spielberg in the U.S. linked
the holding of the Games in Beijing to the Chinese government’s official
position on Darfur, Sudan and belatedly to Tibet. Sections of the
American media started describing the forthcoming games as the “Genocide
Olympics”. Interestingly, there is a lot of commonality in the Indian
and Chinese approach to Sudan and Myanmar. Both governments have
excellent relations with the two countries that have been blacklisted by
the West. China, in fact, had used its leverage with Khartoum to
facilitate the despatch of United Nations peacekeepers to the region.

After the Olympic torch reached the Argentine capital Buenos Aires in
the second week of April, there were no further untoward incidents. The
governments in Latin America and Africa are determined to ensure that
the Olympic spirit is not tarnished. In London and Paris, protesters
actually tried to snuff out the Olympic flame. In Asia, the support for
the Tibetan separatist cause is confined mainly to India and Japan.
Staunch allies of the West in Asia, such as Singapore, have condemned
the violence in Tibet and have extended full support to Beijing in its
handling of the issue.

Tibetan exile groups have the active support of major political parties
and sections of the establishment in both India and Japan. In Delhi,
they are considerably emboldened by the exposure they have got in the
Indian and Western media. Instigated by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh
(RSS), a few prominent B.J.P leaders are calling for a change in India’s
“Tibet” policy. Former External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha of the
BJP has announced that he will lead a march to Lhasa to express
solidarity with the Dalai Lama and the separatist cause.

As Cuban leader Fidel Castro wrote recently, “The campaign against China
is a bugle call aimed at unleashing an attack on the country’s
well-earned success and against its people.” The campaign to undermine
the Beijing Olympics, using the Tibet issue as a pretext, has gained
momentum with many Western leaders now openly announcing that they would
not be present at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. It has been
a time-honoured tradition for world leaders to congregate at the venue
of the Games. Among those who have announced their non-participation are
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minster Gordon Brown.

The European Parliament has asked all European Union (E.U.) members to
boycott the opening ceremony if China does not immediately begin talks
with the Dalai Lama. It had passed a resolution calling on governments
to explore “the possibility of non-attendance in the event if there is
no resumption of dialogue”. The leading presidential candidates of the
U.S., Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, have demanded that
President George W. Bush also keep himself away from the inaugural
ceremonies. Surprisingly, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also
said that he will not be attending the big event. His office has cited
scheduling problems. Beijing had a big role to play in his elevation to
the top U.N. job.

The views of the conspiracy theorists in China would have been further
strengthened by the discordant note struck by International Olympic
Committee President Jacques Rogge, who claimed that Olympic games were
“plunged into a crisis”, following the demonstrations against the
holding of the Beijing Olympics. He went to the extent of advising the
Chinese government to improve its human rights record before the Games
formally opened in August this year. Beijing politely requested the IOC
president to keep politics out of the Olympics and adhere to the Olympic
Charter.

In a bid to reassure Beijing, Gunilla Lindberg, vice-president of the
Olympic Committee, recently compared some of the anti-China protesters
to terrorists. “We will never give in to violence,” the official
stressed. Some Western diplomats this correspondent spoke to expressed
dismay at the position their governments had taken on the issue. They
feel the targeting of China would create a bad precedent. Almost all the
governments in the world have to deal with serious domestic issues that
impinge on human rights and civil liberties. The diplomats point out
that the U.S. is least qualified to censure any country on issues
relating to human rights and democracy. The campaign against China comes
at a time when the world is observing the fifth anniversary of the
American invasion of Iraq.

In the second week of April, Chinese authorities announced that they had
uncovered a plot to kidnap foreign journalists, tourists and athletes
during the Games. The spokesman for China’s Public Security Ministry
said the plot was hatched by the Uighur separatist movement in Xinjiang
province. The Chinese authorities say that they have discovered a large
cache of weapons and explosives from the hideouts of the Uighur
separatists. The West these days is not too enamoured of the Uighur
separatists because of their alleged links with Islamist groups worldwide.

The Uighurs are a Muslim minority in China. They have been responsible
for headline-grabbing terrorist strikes in China in the late 1990s and
early 2000. Before the events of September 2002, they had the tacit
support of many Western intelligence agencies and governments. But these
days the West supports only those separatist movements that are
ideologically close to it. The Palestinians, the Sahrawis, the Serbs in
Bosnia and Kosovo, and the Kurds in Turkey have no right for statehood
in the eyes of the West. Israel, Kosovo and Tibet get precedence in its
scheme of things.

The Dalai Lama formally continues to support the staging of the Games in
Beijing. He reiterated that China had the right to host the Olympics. He
said that China deserved that privilege because “it is the most
populous, ancient nation”. But at the same time, the Tibetan spiritual
leader is not showing any signs of keeping down his heated rhetoric.

His attempts to distance himself from the violence perpetuated by his
followers in Tibet and surrounding areas by making unsubstantiated
statements have further angered Beijing.

The Dalai Lama had claimed that Chinese soldiers dressed as Tibetan
monks were responsible for the violence that erupted in Lhasa. The
Tibetan “government-in-exile” had released what it claimed were
satellite pictures of Chinese soldiers shedding their uniforms and
putting on the robes of monks. These pictures were actually close-ups of
People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers who were drafted for a film
shoot in 2003. The soldiers had stepped in for Tibetan monks who refused
to cooperate when the movie was being made.

Fidel Castro wrote in his latest article: “I respect the Dalai Lama’s
right to believe but I am not obliged to believe in the Dalai Lama.” In
India and most of the world, public opinion has not been swayed by the
latest machinations emanating from the West to politicise the Olympics.•
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