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Posts Tagged ‘olympic protests’

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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The Chinese authorities released a report which seems to have indicated that they will be willing to resume communications with the Dalai Lama. Bob has waited to couple of days for more concrete news on this story, but there has been little.

One point that is worth picking out of the Chinese report that broke this news story is that one condition is that the Dalai must put a stop to “plotting and inciting violence and stop disrupting and sabotaging the Beijing Olympic Games so as to create conditions for talks” (via BBC). Is this a get out cause should there be any trouble in August in Beijing?

This may be seen as a victory by Tibetan protesters, however it comes at the same time that the Olympic flame is about to embark on it’s assent of Mount Everest; keeping the Olympic torch relay out of Tibet was one of the main objectives of the campaigners.

For more on this news Imagethief succinctly highlights the difference in reporting of this story between CNN and Xinhua (ok, it’s not hard to find differences, but it is a perfect little illustration of the great media debate surrounding the reporting of the Olympi protests) and Simon Elegant delivers a rather depressing ‘realistic’ summary of the obstacles that remain between the two sides and any meaningful progress.

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What a busy day it has been in London; the Olympic torch ran the gauntlet of the city streets as has the Beijing Olympics Blog.

For full coverage of the protests the BBC has been the most up-to-date and comprehensive news source today. The photos below show some of the stories of the day from the streets.

Torch Relay – Celebrations

Although in most parts of London anti-Beijing protesters managed to overshadow the torch relay, in Chinatown the atmosphere was much more one of celebration. The local Chinese community were certainly happy to welcome the Olympic flame, and the entertainment was also excellent! See these celebrations in full video too.

Torch Relay – Chinatown flagsChinatown flags

A solitary woman with a Tibetan flag was the only sign of protest against the Olympics in Chinatown. Her presence was understandably treated somewhat hostilely, and flag bearers from London Chinatown Chinese Association attempted to hide her flag with their own; an interesting metaphor, perhaps?

Torch Relay – Local support

Torch Relay - Local support

The atmosphere in Chinatown was good, as the cold weather failed to suppress high spirits. Local businesses, including the Everwell Chinese medicine shop, were out to show their support for Beijing.

Torch Relay – High security

Torch Relay – High security

The heavy security surrounding the torch relay did impair the experience for spectators, as the passing torch could barely be seen behind the ranks of police. The Chinese ambassador was apparently bearing the torch for the Chinatown leg, but you would never have known.

Torch Relay – Face-off

Torch Relay – Face-off

As ‘pro-Tibet’ protesters and ‘pro-China’ protesters converged in Whitehall, from the directions of Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square respectively, there was a face off between the groups on opposite sides of the road. From one side came the Chinese national anthem and chants of ‘China, China’ while the other side chanted ‘Free Tibet’ and ‘Shame on China’.

Torch Relay – Debate

Torch Relay – Debate

As ‘pro-Tibet’ and ‘pro-China’ protesters mingled in Whitehall some engaged in debate, arguing their respective causes. This is the kind of exchange that should be happening much more, and that unfortunately seems so difficult within China. Bob would like to congratulate both men pictured for engaging in dialogue.

Torch Relay – Chinese supporters

Torch Relay – Chinese supporters

The media coverage has been dominated by the presence of pro-Tibetan protesters and others with grievances with the Chinese authorities, but the presence of large numbers of supporters of the Beijing Olympics was also striking.

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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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