Tibet and the Olympic torch – open thread

As you all know, the Olympic torch barely made it through London. And the Chinese are pissed off about it. IOC president Jacques Rogge was not pleased either. From BBC News

“Violence for whatever reason is not compatible with the values of the torch relay or the Olympic Games,” he said.

Okay, first question for our readers to debate. Why were the OG awarded to China, a country whose human rights values do not seem compatible with the values of the OG either? And what does this say about the values of the international community and the IOC?

Second question. China did not occupy Tibet yesterday. In fact the process of colonisation has been going on for a few decades. Why should we get all upset now that China is organizing the Games? And when the Games are over, shall we still be paying attention to Tibet then?

Third question. Why should we even care? Business comes first, right? And, after all, you do not want to mess with a country the size of China. And, who knows, maybe the Chinese will be so pleased with our trade and their Olympic Games that they will change one day. Like we have changed our own ways. Or, have we?

Feel free to get as cynical as I am in answering these questions. In the meantime, keep an eye out for demos in Paris. From the same BBC News article:

The Paris police chief has said the flame will be protected like a head of state. The head of the Paris-based media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, said it had altered its initial plans for similar demonstrations because of the expected heavy police presence, but nevertheless promised something “spectacular”. “The Chinese have made sure that for a few hours, Paris will look like Tiananmen Square,” Robert Menard said. “I think it’s shameful.”

28 thoughts on “Tibet and the Olympic torch – open thread

  1. I was rather proud of the whole business. The event went ahead, the conflict was aired without any real violence and the people arrested had their say. Also, as a bike enthusiast, I think it’s incredibly cool that the Met fields mountain bikes. It’s just a pity so many British police forces are buying Smith and Wesson bikes (pretty crap from what my bike repairing buddy tells me) when there are so many great European bike producers.

    On the whole, I think politics and sport will mix, and it’s better than politics and the military mixing. I would oppose a boycott but support further protests. Just bear in mind that protests in Beijing won’t be treated with such professionalism and restraint. An ex-colleague of mine, who is a student in the UK, used to be in the Chinese police; it was a way of earning education benefits. Even through his impeccable reserve, he made it clear that they are not a nice organization.

    Kind regards,


  2. Why were the OG awarded to China, a country whose human rights values do not seem compatible with the values of the OG either? And what does this say about the values of the international community and the IOC?

    I think the kerfuffle is precisely because the Beijing Games exposes the gap between what the IOC claims to be – a sacred institution that brings all of humanity together in pursuit of excellence – and what it actually is – which is a big pillar of the sports entertainment industry with a huge vested interest in the various income streams that go with that.

    Rogge sees that the demonstrations are bad PR, but cannot talk about it in those terms, so he has to resort to vague pronouncements about the “values of the Olympic Games”. The problem he has is that nobody buys into that talk except the IOC, which is why people think he sounds a bit foolish when he brings it up.

    I don’t have a problem with the sports entertainment industry, but I don’t mistake it for the true spirit of sport either. The true spirit of sport is my biweekly 5-a-side football match on a tired old pitch in Tivat!

    Why should we get all upset now that China is organizing the Games? And when the Games are over, shall we still be paying attention to Tibet then?

    The question isn’t really “why should we get all upset now” – the Free Tibet movement has just recognised that this is probably the best time in their entire history to make their voice heard, and the torch relay is an amazing high-profile protest opportunity. They should (and will) take maximum advantage of it – these protests were perfect, non-violent, highly visual and visible and paralleling the use of state power to suppress dissent in Tibet itself. What’s not to like?

    After the games, everybody will forget about Tibet.

    Why should we even care? Business comes first, right?

    I’m not sure where you’re going with this question, though – which “we” are you talking about? It’s not as if the portion of our society that does business with China has much overlap with the portion of our society involved in these protests….

  3. Parts of Tibet are no majority Han. China cannot afford to abandon them. Furthermore, if Tibet goes, so are the chances the Uighurs want to get out, too. Destabilizing China and indeed much of Asia is not in Europe’s interest.
    If we are honest we admit that we want Tibetan culture to disappear, or rather any alternative is much worse.

  4. oliver, thats a short sighted view.

    nationalism never goes away, lasted 8 centries in ireland under british rule.

    merely brushing it under the carpet does nothing.

    im all for the protests, we live in free countries (in europe) so people can express their right to protest. its effectivenss is another question altogether.

  5. There will be Tibetan nationalism as long as there’s a Tibetan people. Which won’t be all that long. If China retains a central authority and Chinese nationalism doesn’t falter, which is likely, assimilation is neigh inevitable.

    Of course, Tibetans may protest and this is the last and best opportunity they have. Their cause is just. But it would have very bad consequences. And it is unlikely to suceed. However that question is out of our hands.
    The only question Europe faces is what Europe is to do. And given the possible consequences, my answer is: nothing.

  6. Oliver – so your solution to the “problem” of Tibetan nationalism is to wait until the entire nation has been wiped out? It’s certainly an innovative approach. Perhaps we could apply it to other situations as well?

    Let’s wait until everybody in Darfur has been exterminated – then there won’t be a genocide any more. Oh, hold on – that’s the most stupid argument I’ve ever read. Unless it was meant to be satirical, in which case it’s a work of genius.

  7. The Horn of Africa, pygmies in central Africa, the African West Coast, smoldering war in the eastern Congo, Amazonian tribes, where gold is found, the peoples of Borneo and western New Guinea due to transmigrasi, …

    The list is long. Some peoples will vanish from this world. Europe cannot prevent it. On the contrary, what do you think the CAP is doing? And our recent folly of turning food into fuel?
    Can you enlighten us why we should take special risks for Tibet? We even refuse to commit forces to places we could help.

    Regarding Darfur, yes we could invade. At a considerable price in blood and money. And you are kidding yourself if you think anything less would do. The area is overpopulated and making rain is outside our powers. We’d need to reorganize agriculture and build modern irrigation systems. And soon we’d be labeled as the imperialist west crushing the independence of muslim people.

    Indignation will make you feel better. It helps nobody. On the contrary, it might drive you to irrational actions that make matters worse.

  8. I think the problem has much to do with the perceived *and real* economic dependency of the West on China’s good will. A lot of people are now realising that the interdependence has increased to a point where “awarding Olympic Games” to “foster a dialog” simply doesn’t cut it anymore. China, btw, will realise this as well. But they know that as long as they are the ones who keep greasing the US economy for the benefit of everyone else, particularly in the current circumstances, they can do pretty much whatever they want in Tibet.

  9. Oliver: Your arguments go from inane to imaginary, which is never a good sign.

    You asked Can you enlighten us why we should take special risks for Tibet?. I’m afraid not, because I have no idea what you mean by “special risks”, and as far as I can see, I didn’t propose taking any risks at all.

    Incidentally: I don’t recall proposing that we should invade Sudan; in fact, I actively oppose such a policy. The idea that anything less than an invasion will have any impact on Darfur is impressively facile, and doesn’t seem to have much bearing on the reality on the ground.

  10. “It’s not as if the portion of our society that does business with China has much overlap with the portion of our society involved in these protests….”

    I think you hit on a very important point here, Paul: the difference between how the West is perceived and how the West is seen to act. At the same time, the two “Wests” mentioned may be two entirely different things.

    A guy on Arte (I forgot who) said that the Chinese government knows this very well and that they, deep down, are not worried too much about what people in the West (protesters and public opinion) think because the West (corporate world) will continue to do business with them regardless.

    Of course, they like to project a different image. Maybe that is why they are pissed off now. I don’t know.

  11. Well, if you think so, you can surely tell us how Europe is supposed to help Tibet?

    Helping Tibet will mean putting a lot of pressure onto China. Nothing symbolic will do, it needs a lot of pressure. China can strike back. We are not applying such pressure on countries that have a far lower potential of striking back. Hence putting pressure on China is a special risk.
    If nothing is done, the Tibetan people will vanish. That was my prediction. You may disagree. If so, state your reasons.

  12. This comment does not relate to the right or wrong of what is going on in Tibet; I haven’t paid enough attention to the historical events to come to a reasonable conclusion. My point is that China is now getting a taste of the flavour-of-the-week protest crowd that has dogged the U.S. and other Western democracies for years. I would venture to guess that probably 90% of the protesters are no more aware of the root causes of the Tibet/China problem than I am. It is simply that China is gradually replacing the U.S. as the preeminent world power and, as such, they are losing their lustre as the poor, down-trodden innocents suffering at the hands of the greedy Western imperialists. China had better get used to being the new target of the mindless sycophantic adherents to the latest demagogue to come down the pike. Hitler would have had a wonderful time with this brain-dead crowd.

  13. Oh, and another thing. In the same Arte programme the head of “Reporters sans Frontières” Robert Ménard (the man mentioned in the BBC News article) said he understood that the West had material interests to defend in China. He just wanted the West to drop its human rights pretentions and be upfront about those interests.

    Talking about moral conundrums… “Yes, we would like to do something about the problem, but really we cannot. The solution? Keep up appearances as long as we can and take comfort in the fact that we are powerless anyway.”

    It sucks, but this seems to be the hard reality behind the discourse.

  14. I just want to say that wanting the boycott of the OG by the sportsmen is ridiculous. A politic boycott of the opening ceremony, could mean something.

    But, think a bit : what boycott is going to produce good effects of the human rights in China ? The one of some thousands world sportsmen, or the boycott of buying low cost made in China goods & products ?

    Because, if China officials don’t even look on the protestations, it surely is because they know we’ll continue to buy their products. But this would be really more polemic, and no european country or association raised voice about what could be a real effecient boycott action.

  15. Powell Lucas: that’s one of the more bizarre comments I’ve read. You know nothing about the Free Tibet movement, yet you’re prepared to guess that the protesters don’t know any more than you. If those protesters are “sycophantic adherents”, then who exactly do you think is the “demagogue” that they’re following?

  16. Oliver: Your original argument was not simply that if nothing was done, Tibetan culture would disappear – it was that we should do nothing and watch it disappear. I agree that, if things continue as they are, Tibetan culture is likely only to survive a) as a tourist piece in Tibet, and b) as an exile culture. I disagree that we should do nothing about that. There is a human rights element to international relations, now more than ever before. We have that element – limited though it might be, embattled though it might be – precisely because people weren’t prepared to “do nothing”.

    For example, if there was a significant boycott of the Olympics by athletes over Tibet, it would be hugely embarrassing for China – and that is something that matters to them. Whether these protests will make a difference in the long run, who knows? The alternative, however, is to do nothing – and for some people that isn’t an acceptable alternative. I am one of them, you are not – and that’s fine. However I would point out that this position could be applied to most other situations and would lead to a foreign policy that consisted of shrugging emphatically.

    p.s. China is unlikely to “strike back”, because it requires our markets in the same way as we require its products.

  17. p.s. Also worth remembering – these protests are not just about Tibet, but about wider issues of human rights in China.

  18. utimately the tibet question is one that is reflected in many areas in the world, some being “Hotter” than others, AOE covers many of them in excellent manor.

    oliver, assimilation will remove tibeten nationalism, effectively it may create a minority, however small that minority is perhaps they still desire independant rule. albanians did in kosovo o so very recently.

    Powell Lucas: i am entitled to hold the opinion that i may not be aware of all of the tibeten history, however when i see peacefull people (the monks and civilians) willing to risk life and limb in an attempt to obtain (or restore, im not even sure) independence im pretty sure they know what they are doing and they believe they are right.
    the chinnesse reaction also helps form my opinion as well.

    as an irishman i cannot but sympathize, since i have a keen awareness of the ability of nationalism, like religion, to remain active for centries. dosent really matter what athourties do since the more they crack down, the more it becomes an ideal. really i may be a leftie, but surely people comit genocide becuase they do not want to deal with the consequences of nationalism. (i dont agree with Paul C on this point at all).

    personally, i’m with the tibetens, id much rather see a non violent end to this. is that possible? yes, happen soon? no. i see a bottom up change coming in china. it may be peaceful, might not (thats the scary one), will happen becuase chinesse people will soon be finished leapfrogging and there will be one very wealthy country with a people with almost nothing to show for their wealth. (scary option here is that china breaks the ladder climbing up and then everyone falls off.)

    as for sport, let that go on, one way or another, most of us in the world are sport consumers. i dont see any great benit from boycotting the opening cermonoy, its merely token gesture (cause its politicians). i do see benit in protesting at the torch, the difficulty sponsers are having. the celebs rolling in too. it all makes it uncomfortable for the chinness government. after that its up to the chinness people.

    powell lucas, imo the US/iraq protests did have an effect. certainly you have 2 presidential hopefulls (no idea on mcains position) talking about how they can “restore” the worlds faith in the big ould US of A. you may call it rethoric, i think it at least means some people in usa think its an election issue.

  19. damn

    awful typo
    2nd para
    assimilation will remove tibeten nationalism

    was ment to be
    assimilation will not remove tibeten nationalism

  20. “Oliver – so your solution to the “problem” of Tibetan nationalism is to wait until the entire nation has been wiped out? It’s certainly an innovative approach. Perhaps we could apply it to other situations as well?”

    The Tibetans aren’t going to disappear. Tibet is a poor and environmentally hostile land. Who’s going to move there in any number? One might as well expect that the Inuit of Nunavut will be overwhelmed by waves of non-Inuit Canadians, who outnumber the people of Nunavut by something like 500:1 (ethnic Tibetans are outnumbered by Han something like 200:1).

    I’m quite willing to bet that there will still be a Tibet in a century’s time.

  21. Randy is onto something. The trend of Han immigration to Tibet is fueled only by the central government paying people to move there. When this fiscal folly falters, the Han of Tibet will likely go the way of the Russians of Chukhotka.

    But demographics notwithstanding, Chukhotka is still governed from Moscow.

  22. “Randy is onto something. The trend of Han immigration to Tibet is fueled only by the central government paying people to move there. When this fiscal folly falters, the Han of Tibet will likely go the way of the Russians of Chukhotka.”

    As far as I can tell from this and this, China’s GDP per capita in renminbi is 16 thousand. A list of GDP per capita in China’s top-level subdivisions is here.

    You’ll note that Xinjiang is slightly below this but still above the level of many Chinese provinces, and has booming extractive and manufacturing industries besides. People are moving in very significant numbers to Xinjiang because that province has an economy that offers jobs. In all honesty, I expect Xinjiang to become and remain a Han-majority jurisdiction pretty soon. There’s an economic justification for a ery large Han Chinese population there, just as there was an economic justification for heavy Slavic immigration to the Baltics during the Soviet period.

    Tibet’s different, only slightly wealthier than poorer provinces mostly in the southwest and very inhospitable. At the same time, the province suffers from very low levels of education and professional skills, a traditional deficit that has remained. Who is the Chinese government going to turn to but to people who have those skills elsewhere in the country? Many of these people will be temporary migrants if only because they don’t want to live in this environment. Many of these people will stay because they’re needed.

    Don’t think Rîga. Think Yellowknife, or Godthab/Nuuk, instead.

    As things stand, the attacks on ethnic Chinese and other Sinophone migrants leave me cold. Ethnic purity isn’t the way to go for any people, least of not one that’s led by a government in diaspora.

  23. Hi Paul C,

    trying to educate myself on things beyond Pristina, like the Olympics, and came across someone called Paul C who plays football in Tivat. It struck me that it might be the very same Paul C who stayed with us last year on the way back to Montenegro. If so, a) hello and b)maybe I’ll see you in June – I’m due to be near Tivat at a Balkans youth camp. Who says the Olympics doesn’t bring people together…

  24. Let’s look at the historical precedent: What value was there to the boycott of the Moscow Olympics protesting the invasion of Afghanistan? Did it help? Hurt? Have no effect?

  25. Yes, an olympic boycott would embaras China. It would do nothing else. China’s priorities are clear. Furthermore, China can cause a lot of trouble in that area, too. Eg. if Europe wants a post Kyoto treaty, snubbing China is a bad idea.

    Secondly, and more importantly, Europe’s credibility is at stake. Awarding the games to Beijing was done at full knowledge of conditions in China. By our own stated standards even an olympic boycott would be insufficient. Yet again first The West said and did one thing and then after a development we knew to be quite possible Europe says the opposite but its words don’t match the actions.

    Europe needs to start telling the truth: The support of human rights abroad is a secondary concern.

    Regarding settlement with Han, it should be remembered that East Turkestan is the place with the oil and the minerals. China, probably correctly, considers trouble in Tibet to cause trouble in other areas, too, if it isn’t surpressed decisively.

  26. As you said:Business comes first, right?It is ridiculous that people in europe want to see china is so bad on the media instead of the truth.

    I live in china for 18 years and things happened around me,today someone said it was nothing but a lie?Do you think the girl who was killed by Dalai Lama and his minions is a migration?Who suffered the most in this tragedy?You don’t know!You don’t really want to know about the truth because you don’t really care about it!It is funny for the crowed join the liberation army of Tibet?Shame You!!

    After all,we are no right to be heard.We are all “brainwashed’ remember?

Comments are closed.