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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."

Violence on the frontier exposes China's unease

August 13, 2008

A brutal reminder that there is mighty dissatisfaction beneath the surface
The Gazette
August 10, 2008

George Orwell was not exactly steeped in Olympic spirit.
"International sport," he said gloomily, "is war without the
shooting." One might respond that at least it's a start - except not
everyone agrees on the no-shooting part. Terrorists in western China
produced a bloody spectacular this week expressly to take the shine
off Beijing's glitzy Games.

China will not be badly shaken, even by the deaths of 16 policemen.
The regime has a firm, fierce hold on power in Xinjiang province and
the remote city of Kashgar, where the killing occurred. But the
incident is a brutal reminder that, just as in Tibet, there is mighty
dissatisfaction beneath the surface.

In each case, we have a distant minority people (Tibetan, Uyghur)
with a strong religious inclination (lama Buddhism, Islam), living in
a sensitive border area (India, five unstable -stans). Each feels
itself being submerged by Han Chinese. Each remembers that Mao Zedong
promised it independence before the Communists came to power in 1949,
and reneged.

East Turkestan is what the Uyghurs would like to call their homeland.
There are roughly equal numbers of them and Han Chinese in a total
population of 20 million, and they don't like each other.

When I visited Xinjiang in 2001, the Chinese overlords were running a
very taut ship. Security was tight. Mosques were barred to all
teachers, students and those under 18. Religious schools were closed,
the veiling of women discouraged.

Kashgar itself, still predominantly Uyghur, is on the remote side of
the fearsome Taklamakan Desert, "the sea of death." It is one of the
least accessible places on the globe. Britain and Russia played their
Great Game for India here more than a century ago. The British
consul-general, Sir George Macartney, spent 28 years here keeping
watch on his Russian counterparts. (One of his prime sources was a
Dutch priest with whom he conversed in their only common language, Latin.)

A good camel used to cost 500 bucks in the Kashgar market. I wonder
what terrorism has done to prices.

Why are we not surprised that some nincompoops tried to make a
federal case out of the apparent unilingualism of Adam van Koeverden,
the athlete chosen to carry Canada's flag in the Olympic opening
ceremonies? Van Koeverden, a kayaker from Oakville, Ont., is a
reigning world champion, Canada's best hope for gold in Beijing and,
by all accounts, the sort of all-round super guy every mother wants
her daughter to marry. Who cares if his French is weak?

We all understand that our prime ministers must henceforth be
bilingual, as also our governors-general, clerks of the privy
council, chief justices of the supreme court, chiefs of the defence
staff, heads of the CBC and a bunch of others. But requiring fluent
bilingualism of every flag-carrier is just nuts.

It was reassuring to see La Presse's peppery columnist Pierre Foglia
commend the choice of Van Koeverden, then add: "We'll ask him to
learn French when he tells us he wants to become minister of sport." Exactly.

Back to George Orwell. "Sport," he also wrote, "is an unfailing cause
of ill-will." To which a fan can only respond: No, not always. There
is magic, too. Here are a few events I'll be watching.

Women's gymnastics. For skill, guts and drama, this is usually tops.
Remember Olga Korbut in 1972? Nadia Comaneci in 1976? Mary Lou Retton
in 1984? The amazing thing is that they perform their perilous
artistry while the crowd is roaring, the music is thumping and other
athletes are spinning and tumbling a few feet away. Golfers have a
tantrum if anyone dares to blow his nose while they are lining up a putt.

Swimming. We'll finally get a good look at those super-suits all the
victors will be wearing. Clearly the suits provide an artificial aid.
They should probably be banned, and the swimmers made to compete naked.

Triathlon. Our own Simon Whitfield ran away from the competition
eight years ago. Since then he has just gotten better and better -
but so has the sport. Any one of half a dozen triathletes could win
it on the day. This is going to be riveting.

Track and field, especially the men's 1,500 metres and 4 x 100 metre
relay. The relay is often the most exciting event of the Games.
Donovan Bailey's final leg in Atlanta in 1996 may have been the
fastest 100 metres ever run by a human. The 1,500 is a classic
distance, requiring sustained speed and endurance.

Kayaking. In a previous existence, living in Oakville, I used to
paddle along 16 Mile Creek past the shed where the canoe-and-kayak
club stored its boats. It was, let's be frank, a dump - but it kept
on producing champions who went out from the creek to take on the
world, and win. Champions like Adam van Koeverden. He's the real article.

Norman Webster is a former editor-in-chief of The Gazette.
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