Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Consider Boycotting China's Games

"What do you call assassins who accuse assassins?"
--Col. Kurtz, "Apocalypse Now"

The ongoing protests in Tibet harken back to an earlier time:
The suppression of the protest was immortalized in Western media by the famous video footage and photographs of a lone man in a white shirt standing in front of a column of tanks which were attempting to drive out of Tiananmen Square. Taken on June 5 as the column approached an intersection on the Avenue of Eternal Peace, the footage depicted the unarmed man standing in the center of the street, halting the tanks' progress. He reportedly said, "Why are you here? You have caused nothing but misery." As the tank driver attempted to go around him, the "tank man" moved into the tank's path. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. After returning to his position blocking the tanks, the man was pulled aside by onlookers who perhaps feared he would be shot or run over. Time Magazine dubbed him The Unknown Rebel and later named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

I was in Tiananmen Square a couple of years ago, and I was struck by the enormity of the square. To one side was Mao's Mausoleum, to another was the Beijing National Museum, the north was flanked by the Forbidden City and to the west was the People's Assembly (I think its called that).

What I noticed more than anything was the implied violence that hung in the air. The roads surrounding the square are massive. They span 8 lanes wide, despite the lack of traffic, with massive shoulders. They are, of course, for the deployment of tanks in the capital. There are non-stop marches of 15-30 goosesteppping Red Guards, unarmed, but still - how long would it take to arm them if it came to that?

In Lhasa, Greater Tibet and Sichuan, the story is of a rising protest to official rule that is perfectly timed to maximize pressure on China's leadership. There will be a concerted effort from now until the Olympics to pressure the Chinese to grant increased autonomy. This has probably been in the works for a long time, and China has been caught flat footed, and that's surprising.

The bottom line problem for the Chinese is this: If the Olympics, as China is insisting, are only about "sport" and "competition", then China's attempts to draw the world's attention to China's growth, aspirations, culture and all else should be null and void.

The Olympics, by tradition and in practice, have never been simply about sport. The 1936 Olympics gave Nazism a stage. The '72 Munich games gave the Palestinians a chance to murder Israeli Athletes while the world watched. The 1980 Olympics and the ban of South African athletes drove home important and effective messages.

If the world ever had a better opportunity to say to China in one shot that their actions in Tibet, their support of the Sudanese government, their constant threats of invading Taiwan, and their bellicose attitudes towards the Japanese are unacceptable, this is it. If China wants to be a world power, they need to start acting like it. In one shot the world can humble the hubris and insolence that has embodied the Chinese foreign policy and attitude towards the rest of the world.

I like China for a lot of reasons, and its people are amongst the most civilized I have seen overseas (and miles beyond the inhabitants of Paris), but I do not like what they are doing as a nation in their foreign and domestic policy and this is a message that can shame the leadership into getting their game tight.

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