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Archive for the ‘Protests’ Category

Put in place prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and due to end roughly a month after the Paralympics, the measures to afford greater independence to foreign reporters in China are about three weeks from ending. Now there is speculation about whether these freedoms will continue at all, or whether the rules will return to pre-Olympic levels.

Tim Johnson summarises the situation…

If the old rules come back into play, this is what it means:

  • Reporters will be required again to seek advance permission from the Foreign Ministry for any trip outside of their base, such as Beijing.
  • And reporters will no longer be free to interview anyone who agrees to an interview request. Rather, interviews must be vetted by authorities.

Johnson’s article reveals a lot, including a statement from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China:

“The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China urges the government to build an Olympic legacy by enshrining the pledge of openness in new rules for foreign correspondents.

“In keeping with China’s efforts to become a more open society, we urge the government to recognize in the new regulations for foreign correspondents that the free flow of information is crucial to the proper functioning of the globalized world.”

The authorities are being typically pragmatic on the matter, acknowledging the situation in an official statement without committing to any particular policy.

Johnson and Imagethief (Will Moss) are not that optimistic:

[Moss] Personally Imagethief feels that the Olympic honeymoon is now over. The downside is that I expect the reporting rules to be allowed to lapse and the air to once again silt up with grunge. The upside is that all the things that were tightened for the Olympics –visas, various petty registration requirements, limits on where you can and can’t hike/film/run/walk/drip ice cream– will relax.

[Johnson] Less than a month from now, we will find out if China will maintain its attitude of greater openness with the foreign media. My bet is that it won’t.

Bob is inclined to follow such opinions. The Chinese government are particularly adept at controlled interpretation of their own laws – a key to their ability to maintain stability and control. We will now head back into a time of more ambiguity (which as Imagethief points out, isn’t all bad), allowing the authorities to stamp out particular news stories, but to allow other infringements passed.

But will the Olympics have a legacy in reporting freedoms for foreign and local journalists…? Much like the official discussion of this topic, that question is rhetorical; it is not for Bob to say, but any legacy is certainly not as profound as the IOC may have foreseen.

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Queuing up to pass through one of the many security check points at the Olympics on one occasion there was a recording being played over the PA system: “Flags of non-participating countries and regions, and sharp objects are not permitted into the Olympic Green”.

At first this seemed like a strange combination – why should sporting Scott or a crowd of Québécois not be allowed to bear their own banners, even if athletes don’t compete under these names? Then an idea quickly dawned. There is a region/nation whose flag is particularly feared by the Beijing Olympic organisers; Tibet.

Bob is not aware of whether this is a new Olympic rule, specific to Beijing, or whether this is customary at every Games. Perhaps those better informed can comment?

Now, the Olympics is one of the few global sporting occasions, it seems, when British athletes do compete under the same banner, and not as the representative countries (which is why Team GB don’t submit a football team to the Games). Personally, this makes it particularly special, and Bob celebrates the opportunity (as an Englishman) to stand alongside Welsh, Scotts and Nothern Irish in support of one team. It is nice to spot a Union Jack in the crowd, but there would be nothing wrong with seeing it flutter next to the Welsh dragon, or Saint Andrew’s Cross.

Bob was considering putting the ruling to the test, and boldly walking up to the gate with the flag of St George tucked under one arm, but then passed a man robed in one casually strolling through the Olympic Green on Saturday 23rd. He did not appear to be hiding his illegal flag from the security.

On the face of it this appears to be a rule with Chinese nationalism in mind, masked as a standard Olympic security condition. Or perhaps that is an over-reaction?

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Finally the day has come and everybody – with the possible exception of those who have chosen to time such an auspicious date with wedding/child birth – is gearing up for the main event; the Opening Ceremony.

All over Shanghai people have been working half-days, leaving work early to prepare for the evening’s festivities. Bars and clubs have been promoting their venues in anticipation of a big turn out, and lost of people are hosting their own ‘Opening Ceremony Parties’. Mario & Sonic at the Olympics on the Nintendo Wii seems to be a popular themed warm up entertainment.

It’s sure to be a spectacular show (with or without Steven Spielberg!). There is keen anticipation in the air combined with a slight sense of nervousness; the run up to the Games has been slightly fraught and it seems almost inevitable that someone would target the main event tonight. It would  be a great shame if it were spoiled. But an even greater shame would be for the security to count any protest were to overshadow the entire event!

People attending the Olympic qualifying football matches last night were made to wait an hour to enter the stadium because of the high level of security. It is possible that such controls will kill all spirit and atmosphere in Beijing.

What’s more, if there should be a protest, surely most people would like to know, rather than for the whole event to be shrouded in suspicion and cynicism.

Bob has not heard estimates on the anticipated viewing figures but this will surely be one of the biggest TV events going. Every Chinese New Year it is part of the modern tradition in China for families to gather round and watch the special variety show – young and old, it seems that is just what people do. So much has been made of the Olympics nationally that the broadcasting of the Opening Ceremony may well bring people together in a similar way. Who knows how much those advertising spaces are worth!?

Fingers crossed for a spectacular show, and no sour taste afterwards.

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Guest post by Jordan Hirsch

In mid–March, several days of peaceful demonstrations against Chinese rule exploded into violent rioting in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. On March 17th, as China engaged in the bloodiest period of its crackdown against the protestors, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge circulated an internal memo to IOC officials, outlining a communications strategy. “China’s involvement in Tibet strictly concerns its social and political policy,” Rogge stated in the memo. “It is not related to the country’s hosting of the Games, nor to its relationship with the IOC.” Most importantly, Rogge ruled out any direct IOC involvement either in condemning China’s response or mediating an end to the conflict. The IOC would remain silent.

Will The Olympics Bring Change in China (or Should They)?But certainly the Olympics and politics go hand–in–hand. Countries compete to host the Olympics for obvious political reasons: to kindle national pride, gain international prestige, and stimulate their economies. The kidnapping and murder of eleven Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists in the 1972 Munich Games, and the years of Olympic boycotts from 1976–84 clearly evince the political nature of the Games. And, doubtless, the IOC has made politically driven decisions in selecting host countries. It rejected China’s 1993 bid for the 2000 Games only four years after the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Even the Olympic Charter seems to call for the promotion of liberal political ideals, including “the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,” a rejection of any “discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, sex, or otherwise,” and the use of sport to inculcate “value of peace, justice, mutual understanding, and international friendship.”

When the IOC granted the 1988 Summer Games to South Korea, then under a repressive military dictatorship, critics accused it of once again awarding the Olympics to an authoritarian regime that consistently violated human rights.

The critics were right about South Korea’s authoritarianism, but the Seoul Games ultimately contributed to South Korea’s rapid and largely peaceful transformation to democracy in 1987. Indeed, the Seoul Games seem to demonstrate that the Olympics can help to initiate progressive political change. As the Beijing Olympics approach and world leaders remain at odds over how to respond, then, what lessons can the international community draw from the history of Seoul 1988?

South Korea’s bid for the Olympics in 1980 served a number of political purposes for the ruling regime. The country had enjoyed rapid economic growth in the 1960s and ’70s, yet the prosperity had not brought with it political liberalization. When South Korean President Park Chung–hee was assassinated in 1979, another military junta, led by General Chun Doo–hwan, assumed power and continued the repressive policies. But South Koreans—especially students—vigorously opposed Chun’s new dictatorship, and began protesting at college campuses across the country. In May 1980, as South Korea prepared its Olympic bid, South Korean students and citizens flooded the streets of the city of Kwangju in a massive pro–democracy rally. The government responded with overwhelming force, with opposition leaders declaring that it had killed nearly 2,000 protestors in one week.

With a bloody stain upon its record so early in its political life, the government sought to use the Olympics to enhance its legitimacy at home and abroad.

Once South Korea won its bid for the Games, outside media descended upon the country and gave voice to dissident students and politicians. Taken by surprise and unprepared to confront the empowered opposition, the government buckled under the pressure and began making concessions.

Alongside the media attention, high–level diplomacy by the (nominally non–political) IOC proved to be the other decisive factor. By the spring of 1987, South Korea had arrived at a crucial juncture. The government had suspended debate over constitutional reforms, and the country nearly ground to a halt as South Koreans from all ages and classes united in protest.

IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch made a high profile visit to Seoul to mediate between the two sides. According to historian Richard Pound, Samaranch, a former Spanish diplomat, “had never been shy about injecting himself and the Olympic movement into world events.” Only two days after Samaranch’s visit, the South Korean government made its famous June 29th Declaration, agreeing to all of the opposition’s demands and giving way to the first democratic elections in South Korean history.

Much like South Korea, China has invested heavy political capital in the Games, taking the unprecedented steps of inviting over fifty world leaders to the opening ceremonies and crafting the longest tour of the Olympic torch in history. This is leverage that the international community has over China, especially in light of China’s still unfulfilled promises to expand media freedom.

Yet the differences between China and South Korea remain stark. China, as an incipient superpower, enjoys far larger economic and political clout. Significantly the Chinese regime is far more ideologically entrenched than were the South Korean generals and can invoke a long history of struggle for popular justice and [against] foreign intervention.”

What’s more, despite its success, Samaranch’s intervention in South Korean affairs raises questions about whether the IOC should engage in diplomacy. Under Samaranch’s model, the Olympics might become a vast political spotlight, shipped purposefully to oppressive regimes to bear international pressure upon them and induce economic and political liberalization. Such an agenda–driven Olympics, without any pretense of political abstinence, might provoke a backlash against the Games from non–Western countries and rob the Games of their universal respect—the very element that empowers their potential for moral leadership in the first place.

In advance of the Beijing Games in August, the IOC has focused its energies on maintaining the idea that the Olympics are “hallowed ground” not to be disturbed by geopolitics. Yet the example set by the South Korean Games establishes that the Olympics can, if unevenly, maintain the balance between its inherent contradiction: steering clear of politics, and upholding its principles of struggling against discrimination and promoting peace, justice, and cooperation.

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Few people would argue that China is controversial choice of host country for the 2008 Olympics – something the Chinese government are only too aware of. With high profile protests greeting the Olympic torch’s global relay and rioting in various western provinces by ethnic Tibetans there is a very real threat of unrest spoiling the sporting showcase of the Olympic Games.

However, many believe that the security measures imposed by the authorities in Beijing may actually do more to sour the spectacle themselves. In the first guest post for the Beijing Olympics Blog a friend of Bob’s and a prominent Chinese Studies academic writes that this March tension was high and the atmosphere was poor in Beijing because of the prominent security presence:

I have never known Beijing as tense, the police and military presence as overt and aggressive, and Tiananmen Square as controlled, as it was in March. We had a lot of hassle about bags and searches before going up onto Tiananmen at the end of the Forbidden City visit, which made me wonder if anyone had tried to get up there, or even succeeded, with a Tibetan flag or leaflets, and then when leaving the Forbidden City, we were all funnelled over one marble bridge lined with a dozen armed men all urging us to hurry up – I think they were trying to make sure no-one whipped out a banner or flag under the Mao portrait, and again, it made me wonder if anyone had done just that, or tried to. It must have made an awful impression on first-time visitors, though – they were almost pushing people along over the bridge, even elderly and disabled tourists.
Then as we were walking east on Chang’an Avenue to where we could catch a cab, still at the top of the Square, we passed a middle-aged migrant woman, who looked as if she might have been Tibetan, who was refusing to let two police officers search her bag. They twisted her arms behind her back, threw her on the ground and knelt on her, pulling her by her hair, just eight feet away from half a dozen horrified British students. When they started to let her up, she threw a punch at one of them, so they repeated the performance, and other police came over to move everyone on, so we didn’t find out what, if anything, she had in that bag – she looked to me like the kind of woman who sells maps and postcards on the Square, not that many of them were allowed onto it to do that this year, but I guess she might have looked a bit Tibetan to the police as well, hence the search. All rather horrible, but I’m glad the students saw it.
We went onto the Square the next day, the day before the torch arrived, and the top half was already closed off in preparation. Locals and tourists were heavily outnumbered by police and soldiers, and police cars cruised the Square broadcasting in English and Chinese instructions not to come to the ceremony if you weren’t invited! Not terribly welcoming, then, and a plain-clothes police office filmed me for 50 minutes while I was talking to my students (should have asked him for a copy – it would have made a nice podcast). The Monument to the People’s Heroes was also closed off and had armed sentries posted all over it – I think that’s new since last year.
I can’t see how they’re going to get through the Games without incident, judging by March-April – things like this are bound to be seen by loads of foreign visitors, including the press – which is partly why I want to be there for the start, at least, although of course it’s the only country in the world where whatever happens either won’t be on the evening news at all, or in very particular form.

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Attending an Olympic Games hosted by China was always going to throw up some interesting challenges for the Taiwanese team, and the China’ Taiwan Affairs office have decided to spice things up. The controversy revolves around the name that Taiwan competes under at the Olympics…

The situation is this: in 1989 China and Taiwan agreed that the latter would be referred to as Zhonghua Taipei (中华台北) which translates as Chinese Taipei. Bob’s understanding is that Zhonghua does mean ‘China’ but is not used to refer to the nation that we know today. This week however “Yang Yi of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office has suggested that Zhongguo Taipei (中国台北) is just as valid as an Olympic designator” (via Shanghaiist). Zhongguo being the name used to refer to modern China, as we know it.

The implication of the change in semantics is probably best put; it’s like changing from ‘Chinese Taipei’ to ‘China’s Taipei’.

This is not the first time that the Chinese Olympic organisers have tried to use the Beijing Games as a PR tool for implying Taiwan’s belonging to the mainland. When organising the (fated) Olympic torch relay an invitation was extended to Taiwan: the Taiwanese were very happy to be part of the international leg, which passed through London and Paris along it’s way, but were less pleased to find out that they had been scheduled between Hong Kong and Macao as part of the domestic route (which also climbed Everest and ghosted through Xinjiang). Funnily enough Taiwan refused.

These stunts are clearly lined up to reinforce the official Party line in China that Taiwan is part of the same country. This is an opinion held very strongly within the general population, who will often express a deep wish that Taiwan would ‘come back to its family’. Bob is unsure of who the PR machine is trying to convince; the Chinese population who are already on side, or the ignorant international community, many of whom may not know what Taiwan’s status is.

Bob is not unfamiliar with the complicated way in which the Chinese view Taiwan; a couple of stories come to mind from teaching in China. The first being a polite scolding from a politically aware colleague that we had better go back to Google images to find a different map of China (one that included Taiwan!).

Map of China WITH Taiwan

Map of China WITH Taiwan

Map of China WITHOUT Taiwan

Map of China WITHOUT Taiwan

The second event being a discussion of landmarks which turned to the subject of the world’s tallest buildings. The students seemed puzzled when Bob suggested that indeed China was already home to the world’s tallest building. “No” they said, “that will be in Shanghai, but it’s not finished yet”. A little confused and cautious of what to say Bob pointed out that Taip – ei was home to the current tallest skyscraper and so of course it was Chinese. At this point the students also seemed confused at whether the tower was in fact Chinese; perhaps it was a Zhonghua tower, but not a Zhongguo tower?

World's Tallest Tower in Taiwan (China?)

World's Tallest Tower in Taiwan (China?)

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This week the Boston Globe has a collection of photos from various anti-terrorism exercises and demonstrations (thanks to Rachel for pointing this out). A number of these come from “a week-long series of anti-terrorist drills called “Great Wall 5″, in preparation for the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games”, so the Globe claims.

Although this may just be an excuse to put images of the Chinese military in the western press, it is a very striking collection of pictures. This does not appear to be another case of the media pulling out misleading images to portray its own story – as was picked up by the Chinese bloggers at anti-cnn.com – as most images are sources from the Chinese press and come with detailed explanations of where and when the were taken.

Here are a few to feast your eyes on:

Chinese Paramilitary Olympic Preparations

Chinese Paramilitary Olympic Preparations

Chinese Paramilitary Olympic Display

Chinese Paramilitary Olympic Display

Chinese Armed Anti-Terrorism Police In Preparations For The Olympics

Chinese Armed Anti-Terrorism Police In Preparations For The Olympics

And finally a picture that tells a thousand stories, taken in Xinjiang during the Olympic torch relay through the capital Urumqi that was commented on here for the high levels of security.

Chinese Police Presence In Urumqi For The Xinjiang Leg Of The Torch Relay

Chinese Police Presence In Urumqi For The Xinjiang Leg Of The Torch Relay

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