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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."

Beijing Benefits from Basic Instinct

June 3, 2008

James Rose
The Standard (Hong Kong)
June 2, 2008

I've never been to the Cannes film festival, but I would guarantee
its no earthquake zone. The only eruptions are artistic ones, hardly
the life-taking, earth- shattering variety which rippled under
southwestern Sichuan on May 12.

Despite the different worlds, Basic Instinct actress Sharon Stone saw
fit to use one to further destroy her flagging career by making a
ludicrous statement about the other, via some suggestions on karma
and the Dalai Lama.

China might be used to dealing with political protest within the
halls of power, but this celebrity stuff must seem a little hard to
swallow. But Beijing needn't get too worried.

That Stone's misinformed comments were aired amid the glamour and
privilege of Cannes only emphasized just how tenuous and fraught
links between celebrity and dirt-level politics can be.

Stone is no Sinophile, yet a vane and vacuous comment from her about
the May 12 earthquake makes world headlines. A remark from a real
China expert would hardly get a whiff of newsprint ink.

It makes things difficult for Chinese administrators trying to
navigate the shoals of the ritual pre-Olympic media blood lust.
Politicized stars, and they are more and more numerous these days,
don't often respect news cycles or issues of timing, and have a
propensity to think aloud. Artistic types are hard to rein in and for
China's PR mandarins, the celebrity pre-Olympic fallout can be damaging.

China has of course had its share lately. But political celebrities
have their light and shade, and Beijing actually may benefit from
these outraged showbiz types.

Take the Stone incident. Such a comment only highlights for many the
necessity for entertainers to shut up and do what we pay them for -
entertain. While there is some odd amusement value in Stone's
comments and subsequent media crucifixion, this is not what we pay
for when we go to the movies.

Celebrity mouthpieces - and Stone is not among the better known or
best informed - need to be very careful about how they tread. While
many are very knowledgeable, the majority have been too busy with
photo shoots and getting designer kit fitted to have delved too
deeply into the more complex waters of political debate.

This fact has tended to undermine much of the value of a high-profile
figurehead for a given cause.

Those that have done good, rather more measured, work in areas
related to political or social issues - Angelina Jolie, George
Clooney, Bono, or Julia Roberts for instance - have had their efforts
overshadowed somewhat by the shriller, less authentic activities of
say a Susan Sarandon or Christopher Reeve.

Recently, there was a sign apparently in Hollywood that was paid for
by the Bush administration thanking many of the above.

While the Clooneys, the Roberts and the Sarandons have been openly
critical of the Bush presidency, the Bush camp believes that they
directed support away from the very cause they were advocating
because they were seen as disconnected, boorish rich people with too
much time and too much publicity.

Such a description may well describe Stone, and she may have well
done a huge favor for Beijing. A self- professed friend of the Dalai
Lama - surely the sort of friend he could live without - she has cast
a spotlight on the vapid nature of celebrity and their often-trivial
political awakenings.

She has dug a deep hole underneath the pro-Tibet lobby as her
comments will be used to point out the seemingly uneducated nature of
the attacks on China's role in Tibet, and molded into very real
brickbats for future use.

China will hope there will be more Sharon Stones and more celebrity
faux pas to come. Big time entertainers might consider keeping their
mouths shut, in media terms at least, and with tempering their
undoubted clout with doses of responsibility and intelligence.

Outspoken stars may well provide unwitting free kicks when Beijing
might normally expect none.

James Rose is editor of www.corporategovernance-asia.com
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