Posts Tagged ‘Tibetan 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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Some good news for the IOC and BOGOC this week came like a breath of fresh air after the torment of the torch relay; an athlete announced that pollution in Beijing will not be a big problem. Not just any athlete either, but marathon world record holder, and London Olympic torch bearer, Paula Radcliffe.

Paula Radcliffe with Olympic Torch

via the Metro:

“Paula Radcliffe believes pollution in Beijing will not be as big a problem as heat and humidity during the Olympic marathon.

The women’s marathon world record holder, who suffers from asthma, believes the air quality in the Chinese capital will not be the main concern for athletes.

‘It might not even be as bad as everyone thinks because I’m sure the Chinese will do everything they can to reduce the problem,’ said Radcliffe.”

This comes after male marathon world record holder Haile Gabrselassie pulled out of the Olympic marathon because of the threat to his asthma, and is exactly the kind of endorsement the Olympics needed right now.

Also interesting to note that Paula has been speaking out in defence of the Olympics and in criticism of the protesters at the torch relay on the BBC:

“A peaceful protest on the sidelines – fine. But don’t try to stop the torch, because the torch is about more than the Beijing Olympics. It’s about the Olympic spirit and the importance of the Olympics in teaching youth, and teaching the world, what sport can do – how sport can bring people together, how it can overcome suffering, how it has overcome even wars in the past.”

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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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