Archive for March, 2008

Jeremy Paxman just closed tonight’s Newsnight with the news that Heathrow Airport’s brand new Terminal 5 will no longer be the site of arrival in London for the Olympic flame, thanks to the luggage disaster that has plagued ‘T5’. 28,000 bags have been lost so far, and it will take up to a week to resolve this mess. With the Olympic torch’s heavy schedule, and the enormous security surrounding it, the sensible decision to take it through a more tried-and-tested terminal has been taken.

Olympic flame will not arrive at Heathrown Terminal 5


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Tiananmen Square has seen many historically important events in it’s time, and will no doubt see many more. Today as Tiananmen was the site of Beijing’s official welcome to the Olympic torch and the beginning of the torch’s relay around the world, another colourful panel to this rich tapestry was woven. How important this will be in the long run, the following months will tell.

Hu Lights Olympic Flame in Beijing

Watch it here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/video/2008/mar/31/olympics

Such is the anticipation of the Olympics, both in China and abroad, that when China’s Vice President Xi Jinping stated that a century of expectations were being met, it didn’t feel like an exaggeration.

Never one to do things on a small scale (think Great Wall, Shanghai World Financial Centre, Three Gorges Dam, Maglev) the Beijing Olympic torch relay will be the longest ever. Vital statistics: 130 days, 19 countries, 21 cities, 5 continents, and 85,000 miles (the official estimate for the number of protests expected en-route has not been publish). Not only this, but there will in fact be a second Olympic flame, one which will clime the heights of Mount Everest – a typically pragmatic solution from the Chinese authorities (if only we could all be in two places at once, one of us could complete official duties while the other scaled the peaks of the Himalayas).

The torch will be in London on Sunday (6th April) and BOB intends to be there to oversee proceedings.

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The ceremony in Olympia today of the Olympic torch being lit was interrupted by human rights protesters. The event was being shown on live TV across the world – and was no doubt a top attraction in China – when the head of BOGOC, Liu Qi was interrupted by three uninvited guests.

via BBC: “The men were from the France-based media rights watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders, or RSF), which has called for a boycott of the opening ceremony of the games.”

Olympic Torch Ceremony  - Greek DramaOlympic Torch Ceremony  - Greek Drama 2

The protester pictured is holding a banner depicting the Olympic rings and handcuffs, and in a statement the group said: “We cannot let the Chinese government seize the Olympic flame, a symbol of peace, without denouncing the dramatic situation of human rights in the country.” though it is not clear whether the group were particularly linked to the pro-Tibetan protests.

After the protests in China and around the world recently in the name of Tibetan independence security was extremely high for this occassion, and as yet there doesn’t seem to be much news about how the protesters managed to break in. The Greek authorities will be extremely embarrassed, and will not be thanked by their Chinese counterparts – though some journalists present have suggested that the local police took some of this frustration out on the invaders.

The small incursion has, interestingly, been missed out of Xinhua’s extensive coverage of the lighting of the torch, and the relay that followed between Chinese and Greek athletes, including Deng Yaping.

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Chinese government attack Dalai Lama (verbally)

As the news reports continue (despite the attempts to block them) you would be advised to follow events here:

Armed police mass in Lhasa:

Guardian – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/mar/18/tibet.china

Youtube has been blocked, which does not come as a surprise to those who know about these things:

Imagethief – http://news.imagethief.com/blogs/china/archive/2008/03/15/youtube-blocked-unsurprisingly.aspx

Chinese netizens have been busy debating the events and the media response:

CDT – http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/03/netizens-find-space-to-comment-on-lhasa-riots/

Videos and images have been leaking out of Tibet and Sichuan where the unrest has occurred:

CDT – http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/03/tibet-students-protest-at-beijing-campus/

The IOC have (again) emphasised that Boycotting the Beijing Olympics would not be in anyone’s best interests (and certainly not theirs):

Radio 86 – http://www.radio86.co.uk/china-insight/news-today/5543/no-calls-for-olympics-boycott-over-tibet-ioc

Western journalists discuss the difficulties of reporting in crack-down China:

BBC – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7302625.stm

The Dalia Lama urges people not to commit violence, while the Chinese government go on a media offensive against him:

The Guardian – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2008/mar/18/jiabao.dalai.tibet

The Telegraph links Tibet with the other ‘T’ word (no, not Taiwan, the other one):

Telegraph UK – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/03/15/wtibet915.xml

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BBC World affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds wrote this weekend on the Tibetan protests, and their implications for the Beijing Olympics. The article absolutely hits the spot; it mentions the Chinese bewilderment about the level of international pressure, the west’s romantic affection for Tibet, the catch 22 facing the government in dealing with the current unrest.

The Beijing Olympics Blog often links to pages on the BBC News site, so many apologies to any readers in China who have not been able to read these (BOB is aware that the BBC News site is blocked in China, but not sure whether WordPress is accessible?). In this case, the article will be included in full here for your convenience:

Tibet adds to China’s Olympic woes

A senior Chinese diplomat told a European China watcher recently that China felt bewildered by the criticism it is getting in advance of the Olympic games and was inexperienced at handling it.

China was clearly taken aback by the resignation of the film director Steven Spielberg as an adviser to the games.

And just as China was hoping that the Spielberg affair had died down, along comes Tibet.

China seems not to have fully understood the extent to which the Olympic games exposes the host’s policies to criticism.

Britain will find the same in 2012.

The Chinese government had hoped that its policy of partial opening would be enough. Since 2007, for example, foreign journalists are meant to be allowed to travel freely to much of China, though of course Tibet was immediately put out of bounds once the protests started. The old habits kicked in.

Bigger problem

Tibet is potentially a much bigger problem for China than the resignation of a Hollywood director as “artistic adviser” to the Beijing Olympics.

Steven Spielberg was protesting that China had not used its links with Sudan to help bring an end to violence in Darfur.

The publicity in that case was not good for China’s aim of presenting the Olympics as the moment in which its “peaceful rise” was accepted worldwide.

But China is not directly responsible for Darfur. It is directly responsible for Tibet.

Threat of boycott

Tibet has always had a romantic association around the world, fostered by the figure of the exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

If the protests in Tibet are repressed too harshly, then calls for a boycott of the games could grow, even though the Dalai Lama himself is not calling for such a move.

Governments around the world would be forced to make comments more critical of China over Tibet than they normally do.

Many governments feel that China has not balanced its policy in Tibet properly. It has undoubtedly poured a lot of money in to improve economic conditions, the railway link to Lhasa being the latest example.

But it has also poured in Chinese immigrants and has, in the view of foreign governments and human rights observers, neglected the cultural aspirations of the Tibetans.

This feeling was evident in a statement on 15 March by the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who said in part: “We also urge China to address policies in Tibetan areas that have created tensions due to their impact on Tibetan religion, culture, and livelihoods.”

Raising human rights

The British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said recently that diplomats no longer had to fear that raising human rights with China meant that economic relations would be damaged.

However, visits by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the French President Nicolas Sarkozy to China showed little evidence that human rights had featured much during their talks.

Mr Miliband’s confidence will no doubt strengthen the chances of the Dalai Lama meeting Mr Brown during an expected visit to Britain in May. He was refused a meeting with the previous prime minister, Tony Blair, in 2004.

Foreign governments accept Chinese rule in Tibet and do not recognise the Tibetan government-in-exile in India.

Those governments are not calling for Tibetan independence. Nor is the Dalai Lama, though China accuses him of doing so. He says he would like “meaningful autonomy” within the Chinese state.

However, a balanced solution along those lines seems far off.

The Everest ban

An example of China’s habits of control can even be seen on the peaks of Mount Everest.

It was the Everest climbers’ website Everest News that earlier this month revealed that China had closed Mount Everest on the Tibetan side until 10 May. It has since persuaded the government of Nepal, to which it gives substantial economic aid, to do the same on its side.

The stated reason is “concern of heavy climbing activities, crowded climbing routes and increasing environmental pressures”.

But the real reason is probably to allow a Chinese team to reach the summit with the Olympic torch – without risking other climbers flying the Tibetan flag at the same time.

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Tibetan Protests from the Guardian

The last five days have seen the biggest anti-Chinese protests in Tibet for almost 20 years, and as other incidents spark up across ‘mainland’ China it is not clear yet if we are through the worst or whether things will escalate.

The non-Chinese media are doing their best to keep up with events, piecing together eye-witness accounts and details passed on from the many Tibetan independence organisations, and photographs sent by mobile phone and email. The BBC have even carried out an interview with the Dalia Lama.

Tibetan Protests from the GuardianTibetan Protests from the BBBCTibetan Protests from the Guardian

The Beijing Olympics Blog is not going to attempt to keep on top of the events as they happen – but will be watching on earnestly – so would recommend anyone wanting to know the latest to check BBC News. The Guardian also has a very provocative collection of photographs illustrating events in Tibet, India and mainland China.

The Tibetan Olympics

There doesn’t seem to be a clear explanation about exactly what has sparked these events – please feel free to contribute here if you know better – but the timing is not coincidental. This week marks the 49th anniversary of the failed Tibetan Uprisings after which the Dalia Lama fled to exile, and of course 2008 has particular significance to the Chinese government and those with grievances with them – the Beijing Olympics.

The sizeable Tibetan exile community around the world, and their supporters, have chosen the Olympics as an opportunity to publicise their cause, and draw attention to human rights violations by the Chinese authorities. The focal point of these activities is the Tibetan Olympics, held in May in Dharamshala, India, where the Tibetan government-in-exile is based. The Tibetan Olympics even have their own torch, which is currently on the Japanese leg of its journey around the globe.

What does this mean for the Summer Olympics and Paralympics to be held in Beijing? “With the Beijing Olympics just months away, China’s top leaders do not want the monks’ protests to become the country’s defining image” says BBC’s China Editor. BOB has previously written about the anxiety of the Games’ organisers and they will have their work cut out to prevent these protests overshadowing all of the successes of the 2008 Olympics.

The IOC have not wavered in their support for the Chinese and the decision to award Beijing the 2008 Games. Jacques Rogue has repeated the IOC’s strong stance against any boycott by athletes or supporters of the Games. However, Thomas Bach, IOC vice president, has said that the committee will speak with China about human rights

BOB is sincerely hoping that the current protests can be resolved without further violence on either part. Realistically though, there are grave concerns about those protesters left in Lhasa as the aftermath settles upon the city. We will watch be watching…

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In his blog for the Seattle Times Daniel Beekman raises the extremely valid point that in all of the hype about the Olympic Games this summer, the Paralympic Games have been almost completely overlooked. It’s difficult to remember any news stories relating to them; have any paralympians withdrawn for health reasons or joined in Team Darfur? Did Steven Spielberg’s original contract include ceremonies for the Paralympics?

Paralympic LogoParalympic Mascot

Hands up, this dereliction is true of the Beijing Olympics Blog too, until now.

Beekman interestingly points out that:

“People with disabilities in China often struggle to overcome prejudice and discrimination. In Chinese, as in English, the language of disability is revealing. The most common word for ‘disability’ in Mandarin is canji, meaning deficient or deformed.”

The Beijing Paralympics will be the largest ever, and their importance to the disabled population of the host country may never have been greater.

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