Tuesday, March 25, 2008

We have no other option: boycott the 2008 Gulag Games

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.


faceless said...

interesting article, cheers

Even though I am usually a fan of Galloway I just can't accept his defence of China in this manner.

I'd be up for the protest in the name of the Tibetans - it should be up to them to decide what happens in their own country.

I recommend this article for more info about what's happening there.


joe fermanagh said...

I like your idea of a February 15 for Tibet. If there's gonna be any protest about the place it'll be as a result of we ordinary blokes and not Nicholas Sarkozy. If your right and he is the only person voicing concern about what China are up to then God help us.

Tom said...

About boycotting the Olympic Games, i’m not sure it will do any good…On the contrary it will upset the Chinese People who will only understand what the Party will tell to understand…
We’d better go as the OG are a great means to directly communicate with the Chinese People without the communist filter.

Jim Haughey said...

I'm inclined to agree with Galloway. The USA and Britain for all their hot air don't give a damn about human rights in China or anywhere else. Can the US really criticise China for carrying out executions? Can the USA with a straight face chastise the Chinese for occupying another country? Course they bloody well can't. The Brits to aren't exactly lilywhite when it comes to dealing with dissent in their own country!!! The west fears China's massive economic growth. If the red herring of Tibet can be used to upset the apple cart then thjey'll give it a go. Also do not think for one second that the Tibetan protesters are interested in your notion of democracy either. They want to break away from been part of an emerging international economic power to placing themselves under a religious dictatorship led by Dali Lama. Think carefully JG before choosing sides on this one.

Charlene said...

I thought the ceremony was pretty dull too. But I was half expecting some kind of a protest. It's a pity they didn't do it right. Fools. And what's the point of a boycott? Sure if we end up being the only ones there won't we come home with more medals. And I'm not unsympathetic to the Tibetan cause. I think change is going to begin from the inside and work out. So in we go!

Johnny Guitar said...

Faceless, thanks for the comments. Appreciate the link too.

Joe, glad you support the idea of an international day of protest. I think we will see something take place along those lines but as for it being a repeat of the success seen on February 15 five years ago I wouldn’t be so sure. Protests these days are based on what people are opposed to rather than what they are in favour of. Getting people onto the streets to protest against the Yanks and the Brits is easy. Getting them out to express disapproval about something involving China will, sadly, be a lot more difficult.

Tom, when you say this is a great way to “communicate” with the Chinese people what do you mean? China is a relatively open society. It isn’t North Korea by any stretch of the imagination. Tourism is big in China. These Chinese are used to seeing and meeting foreigners. They have the internet (albeit fairly well regulated). They have mobile phones. They have digital cameras. I don’t see how our athletes going to Beijing will help us “communicate” any better. On the other hand, if we were to pull out that would trigger even more questioning among the ordinary working class Chinese population about why exactly they were being ignored by the international community. If we go we’ll have two nice weeks of athletics and then we’ll all return home. If we make a stand and don’t go then we will send out a very strong statement.

Jim, I assume you are talking about Northern Ireland when you talk about “the Brits” and their dealings with dissent in their own country. I think even you must realise the vast chasm between what took place in NI and what is taking place in Tibet. The British Army were responsible for around 300 killings here during the 25 or so years of Troubles. It is possibly that China has killed that number of Tibetans over the past fortnight. There is no comparison. While I am opposed to the death penalty anywhere, there is again a massive difference between the US justice system and that in the PRC. Perhaps you disagree but I certainly know where’d I’d rather be arrested. As for the comparison to Iraq and Afghanistan, in those two recent wars the US and its allies have removed two of the most horrible dictatorships on earth. With Tibet, China annexed an entire country. There is no comparison. I will agree with you though on the Dalai Lama subject. Tibetans deserve a lot better.

Charlene, I think this is about more than how many medals we come home from Beijing with! And even if the only two countries at the games were ourselves and the Chinese we could hardly take any credit for our subsequent victories! As for change starting from within, I don’t think the presence of athletes in China will change anything. Threatening a boycott and potentially humiliating the PRC in the eyes of the world could possibly do the job.

Jim Jay said...

That's an interesting quote from Galloway - where is it from?

J: "They have the internet (albeit fairly well regulated)" ummm... that's a euphamism if I ever saw one. It's an authoritarian state even outside Tibet... it's also very big and the places where tourists go, and foreign workers, are a small sliver of the country.

The Olympics can't be used to bypass the Chinese media and make some sort of political statement - particularly as most countries seem to be putting massive pressure on atheletes not to make any waves.

But I agree that the number of medals people take home is an irrelevence.

Johnny Guitar said...

Jim Jay, the Galloway quote appeared in The Daily Record on February 18th this year.

As my description of the net in China being "fairly well regulated", I did say that in a slightly tongue-in-cheek manner! Yes, I know China is an authoritarian state. The point I was trying to make is that it is not as authoritarian as somewhere like the DPRK. For example, there is some kind of dissident movement in China. We know that for a fact. We know that the state is quite fond of chucking bloggers into jail, so clearly there are Chinese people out there using the new technologies made available to them as a result of the economic boom for the purposes of generating anti-government feeling. So, when I say that it's "relatively open" I mean "relatively open" in dictatorship terms; in other words I'm comparing Beijing not to Cambridge but Pyongyang (a place where I doubt the people even know the meaning of the word 'dissent').

I agree that the Olympics can't be used to bypass the Chinese media. I have no doubt that any form of protest by the athletes would not get anywhere near TV screens in the PRC (just as the images of the Olympia protest this week didn't make it on the news there either). That's why a total boycott would hit home harder. Even the slickest piece of totalitarian media manipulation would have quite to a job on its hands to explain why none of the countries had turned up for the Olympics.

By the way, I've just taken a quick browse through your website and I like the look of it. I'll fire up a link to it along the left hand side here. Yesterday I came across one of the worst blogs in history, but that's a different story altogether. Anyhow, you like Stiff Little Fingers. You mustn't be that bad.

Jim Jay said...

"So, when I say that it's "relatively open" I mean "relatively open" in dictatorship terms; "

That's fair enough JG thanks for the clarificition - very helpful - and thanks for supplying the source to the Galloway quote, I'm writing a post on Tibet right this moment and wanted to quote it so just needed to check (hat tipped supplied of course).

I do have a soft spot for GG but he does have an unguided missile quality to him (which is partly why I like him I suppose).

Johnny Guitar said...

"I do have a soft spot for GG but he does have an unguided missile quality to him (which is partly why I like him I suppose)."

He can be entertaining, in a Bill O'Reilly kind of way. His talkSPORT show is always good for a laugh (the callers to it are absolutely bonkers). As a politician though he is a complete joke: he likes his despots, likes his Islamists and can't get his head round the theory of evolution. Thank fuck the British people had more sense than to put an idiot like him in power.

JG said...

They want to break away from been part of an emerging international economic power to placing themselves under a religious dictatorship led by Dali Lama. Jim

I will agree with you though on the Dalai Lama subject. Tibetans deserve a lot better Johnny


This is not the case. When the Dalai Lama set up the Tibetan Government in Exile he stripped himself of virtually all his powers (the first head of state ever to voluntarily do so?) and set up a parliament much like that in any EU state. The MPs are not appointed by him but elected by exiled Tibetans.

If if the Tibetans did want to "place themselves under a religious dictatorship led by Dali Lama" wouldn't that be entirely their call?

I advise reading Freedom in Exile - autobiography of this amazing man - for more on this.

By the way, Johnny, I agree 100% with your piece. We had a march in Dublin yesterday which sadly attracted a very small crowd.

I think Galloway is good on some issues but he is 100% up his own arse on this one!

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