Posts Tagged ‘Tibet’

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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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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Beijing Olympic Torch Comes to Everest

The BBC’s Jonah Fisher is one of a number of journalists in a heavily monitored party making their way to Everest Base Camp to see the second Olympic Torch begin its assent of the world’s highest mountain.

“The second Olympic torch is now at Base Camp ready for the climb.

“For whatever reason there is apparently still no chance of us being able to witness the start of its epic ascent.”

Preventing the Olympic torch reaching Tibet was one of the main objectives of protesters who targeted the torch’s relay around the world earlier this month. In this they have failed, but news that the Chinese will re-open dialogue with the Dalai suggests a success on the protesters part.

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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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There is no avoiding the Olympic Torch Protests – Bob is beginning to feel like this is the Beijing Olympics Protests Blog – so anyone wanting to read about something else check out the recent stories about Paula Radcliffe, Oscar Pistorius or the Great Firewall. If you are interested on the high-profile comments that have come following the protests surrounding the Olympic torch relay, read on.

Comments have been a plenty, but who has said what?

The Dalai Lama (via BBC)

Speaking in Tokyo ahead of a visit to the US, the Dalai Lama – who many Tibetans regard as their spiritual leader – said he felt China deserved to host the Games, but that protesters had the right to express themselves in non-violent ways.

Hilary Clinton (via Shanghist)

“These events underscore why I believe the Bush administration has been wrong to downplay human rights in its policy towards China. At this time, and in light of recent events, I believe President Bush should not plan on attending the opening ceremonies in Beijing, absent major changes by the Chinese government.”

Barrack Obama (via BBC)

“Barack Obama has urged US President George W Bush to consider a boycott of the opening of the Beijing Olympics unless China’s rights record improves.”

The EU (via BBC)

“On Thursday, members of the European Parliament will vote on a draft resolution calling on EU leaders to boycott the games if there is no resumption of dialogue between the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama.”

The IOC (via BBC)

Some senior and influential figures within the IOC are saying ‘we think it was a mistake, we think the torch relay should have stuck to its original plan’ – that is you light it in Olympia and you it is taken straight to the host city.

China Daily

However, a few “pro-Tibet independence” activists attempted to sabotage the torch relay in London today, which is a serious violation of the Olympic spirit, as the Olympic flame belongs to the world, the spokesman said. The act will surely arouse the resentment of the peace-loving people, and is bound to fail.

Sir Steve Redgrave (via Daily Mail)

Speaking in defence of the Games going to China, and of protesters at the torch relay Redgrave said that protest groups “have the opportunity to make their political points because of the Games going to Beijing. If we all pulled out now, they would not have that chance”.


Bob would just like to clarify a couple of issues. It has been difficult to write about the protests for a number of reasons, particularly because of ‘labelling’ the people involved. For the record Bob has opted for the phrases ‘pro-Tibet’ and ‘pro-China’ because this is simple, and in line with the general media. It is worth making the point however, that many of those protesting against the Beijing Olympics are in not Tibetan, but one of a number of other groups with a grievance with the Chinese government. Many of them, including ironically the Dalai Lama, are not anti-China either – the Dalai has spoken out in favour of China, and China’s right to host the Olympics, but simply demands more cultural/religious autonomy. Like-wise many of those who fall on the other side of the fence would not consider themselves pro-Chinese, but do not believe that the Olympics is the place for this discussion (Kelly Holmes and Paula Radcliffe for example).

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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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