If I were an senior official involved in the organising of this year’s Olympic Games in Beijing I would be getting more than a little concerned. The coming months are going to witness all sorts of dissent, demonstrations and various shenanigans aimed at drawing the world’s attention to China’s continuing occupation of Tibet. If I were a Tibetan independence activist I would be honing my skills in the art of protest. If yesterday’s events were anything to go by they appear to be relatively well honed already.
Shortly after ten o’clock yesterday morning I was half interestedly watching BBC News 24 and its coverage of the Olympic torch lighting ceremony in Greece. Call me a cynic but I got the impression that the Beeb were only covering this remarkably dreary event on the fairly high chance that pro-Tibetan activists would gatecrash it. If so they got what they wanted. Just as a po-faced bureaucrat from the Chinese delegation was making an extremely dull speech to suit the dull ceremony a protestor - who I now read was from the media rights organisation Reporters Sans Frontieres - jumped out from behind the envoy and unfurled a banner. Headlines grabbed and mission accomplished, the troublesome protestor was dragged away by security.
All of this, as I’m sure you know, comes hot on the heels of major disturbances in Tibet over the past fortnight. With the Olympic Games in Beijing and the eyes of the world on China you do wonder just how far the country’s Stalinist rulers are prepared to go to clamp down on the unruly natives in their colonial possession? Could a repeat of the Tiananmen Square massacre be on the cards or are the dictatorship not prepared to go this far during a year when the eyes of the world will be fixed on them? I would be of the opinion that the Chinese are in no mood for a bloodbath in the weeks leading up to their showpiece event. In that respect they are - for a brief period at least - forced to confront the forces of democracy with one hand tied behind their backs. So, this is potentially the best opportunity for the people of Tibet in a generation to push their rulers to the very limit. When pro-democracy activists rose up in Burma last year they were faced with a regime that had nothing to lose. China on the other hand has everything to lose. You would think that given the current situation people from around the democratic world would be lining up to stand with Tibetans, right? Wrong.
A quick flick through the websites of the various online editions the world’s newspapers and you get the idea that for a lot of people Tibet isn’t really high on their agenda. Here’s just a few examples. Kevan Gosper, an Australian member of the International Olympic Committee, says that he believes the Tibetan people should not use the 2008 summer games as the basis for their protests. For Mr Gosper it seems that democracy and human rights play second fiddle to the successful running of a 14 day sporting event. According to the National Post in Canada most people there are in agreement with the Aussie IOC man; that paper published a poll that suggests a clear majority of Canadians are opposed to any form of Olympic boycott. Over the past 24 hours police in Nepal have attacked and arrested a number of pro-democracy protestors in Kathmandu. Cambodia has declared its support for China’s repressive measures. So too oddly enough has Fiji, a country that has just received over $100 million from the Chinese government to improve its road system (not that I’m suggesting for one moment that $100 million may possibly have clouded their judgement). Last but definitely not least the men sitting on the Communist Party’s central committee in Beijing can count on the support of the world’s most infamous dictatorship groupie, Mr George Galloway. He has claimed:
“From the outset the American right and their pathetic echo chambers here have been determined to wreck China's Olympic Games, or at least to diminish them in the way the Moscow Olympics of 1980 were. Every button is pushed from China's supposed "occupation" of Tibet (in fact Tibet was always part of the Chinese motherland, and has been rescued from the mists of obscurantism under the demi-God Dalai Lama by the Chinese revolution) through its attitude to circus bears, the Falun Gong and its one-child policy.”
While the repression in Tibet carries on so to does the exploitation of the working class in a state which absurdly still claims to be Marxist. Take for example the construction workers tasked with building the sites for this summer’s games. These men are receiving a mere $5 a day for their endeavours. Their work lasts at least ten hours a day, there are no weekends off, no paid holidays, no contracts, no health insurance and no trade union rights. Welcome to ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’.
Sadly there does not appear to be anyone advocating a boycott of the 2008 Olympics. President Bush and the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband have said that a boycott is out of the question. Interestingly the only country that has made any sort of positive comments with regard to taking a stand against Stalinist China has been France. The majority of French people are said to support at least a boycott of the opening ceremony, if not a total boycott of the games. Nicolas Sarkozy, a man that in the area of foreign policy at least has moved his country to a much more respectable position than that which it held under that despicable figure of corruption Jacques Chirac, has said that he will not “close the door” to any form of protest. Très bon.
While we cannot count on Bush, Brown, Sarkozy and the rest of the world’s leaders we can at least count on ourselves. Millions turned out on February 15th 2003 to protest against the intervention in Iraq. Its estimated that in our own part of the world around 15,000 turned out in Belfast and something approaching 100,000 marched in Dublin. Why not do the same for Beijing 2008? Select a date, build an international day of protest and take to the streets to register our disapproval. It’s the least we can do.
It seems that it is only sinking in with people in the western world just what we have done by giving this year’s Olympic Games to China. We have given the games to a state that continues to occupy and oppress a nation which it annexed over half a century ago, a country that executes more people than any other on earth, a regime that runs Soviet-style labour camps, a land of no elections, no free trade unions and a place where I could expect to spend a few years in a far flung gulag for the revolutionary act of blogging.
We could take a firm stance. We could put human rights and democracy before the markets and our trading relations with the Chinese dictatorship. Perhaps we could set in motion a series of events that would make 2008 another 1968 or 1989, a year that would be remembered as the one which led to the liberation of the Tibetan and the Chinese people. Alternatively, we could do nothing and thereby put Tibet 2008 in the same category as Burma 2007.