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Friday, April 11, 2008

China, Tibet, and the Olympic Torch

China is a large, growing, industrialized nation hungry for natural resources and energy. After all, energy and a robust economy goes hand in hand.

Tibet is a spiritually driven microculture. Tibet's religion, Buddhism, is one that is seen to seek peace and harmony with nature.

Put the two of them, China and Tibet, together and you have a severe conflict.

Tibet was Chinese territory against the will of the Tibetan people until the early 1900's. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, having returned from India in January 1913, issued a formal declaration of the complete independence of Tibet. After the communists gained full control of neighboring China in 1949, the Red Army set its sights on Tibet, invading Tibet in September of 1949. On November 11, 1950, the Tibetan Government protested to the United Nations against the Chinese aggression, but the General Assembly moved to postpone the issue. The Chinese then carried out plans to turn Tibet into a colony of China disregarding the strong resistance by the Tibetan people. On September 9, 1951 thousands of Chinese troops marched into Lhasa. The forcible occupation of Tibet was marked by systematic destruction of monasteries, suppression of religion, denial of political freedom, widespread arrests and imprisonment and massacre of innocent men, women and children. In 1959, a failed uprising by the Tibetans forced the Dalai Lama to flee and take refuge in nearby India, now the seat of Tibet's government-in-exile.

Remember how earlier I mentioned that China is a large, growing, industrialized nation hungry for natural resources and energy? In recent years, to help quench their growing appetite for energy and resources, the Chinese government has built huge dams for harnessing the hydroelectric energy potential of Tibet, and has built a railroad into the region for transporting large mineral deposits from under the Tibetan Plateau. Last year Beijing announced that the zinc, copper and lead found in Tibet to be worth about $128 billion.

According to Tibetans, China is fencing nomads off traditional grazing lands, destabilizing slopes, degrading the land, and ruining their environment. Even though the Dalai Lama is not demanding independence for Tibet, he is being characterized by China as a wolf in a monk's robe. Owning his likeness in Tibet, or unfurling the Tibetan flag, is illegal under Chinese law. Human Rights Watch counts over 600 prisoners, mostly clergy, in jail for criticizing Chinese-government policies.

Now, the Tibetan protesters are using the 2008 Beijing Olympics to air their grievances to the world, and the world community has responded. In the media I have seen the images of protesters in France and San Francisco. The press is stating that now is the time to confront China on their human-rights abuses.

My question is this: Why now? Why not before? Where were these protesters when China was murdering millions for the last sixty years? Suddenly it's fashionable to protest Communist China? Are they suddenly not the good Communists anymore? Of all the times in history for the world to unite in protest against China, why during the Olympics? Isn't the Olympics about sport? Isn't the Olympics about setting aside politics and competing on the field?

Don't get me wrong, I am just as angry with China and her treatment of Tibet as the rest of the world. Their human rights history against Christians is horrendous as well. The Communist Revolution, and the following years, took millions of lives. And deep down I feel it is comforting to see a brutal dictatorship that is seeking to use the Olympics for its own cynical ends to get a black eye like this. Anytime a tyrannical government receives crummy publicity, and the voices of freedom begin to ring out, it is a good thing. But where were the voices before this current crisis? Rather than ruining the spectacle of the torch run, why weren't people demanding China to straighten out their human rights positions before?

Amid calls for President Bush to boycott the Opening Ceremonies, the president has responded by not committing to attend the Opening Ceremonies by saying that, "The exact dates haven't been determined." This, I believe, is a wise move, for he is not offending the Chinese government prematurely, but he is also not condoning the Chinese government's policies. However, in the end, I believe the U.S. should attend the opening ceremonies. First of all, a symbolic action like the boycott is only effective if followed up with other actions, hammered one upon the other until the legitimacy of the authoritarian government is undermined in the eyes of the people, and is forced to reassess its policies. I don't believe this administration, or the American people, are capable to such a long term commitment against China. The American people have proven their unwillingness to hang in there for the long haul by their response to the War on Terror. Besides, after all, the Olympics are supposed to be above politics. Not about politics.

Though, I have to admit, this international outcry may be what is needed to help push the criticisms of China to a crescendo, and serve as a catalyst towards change in China - perhaps on the same line with the demise of the old U.S.S.R. - but don't hold your breath.

Learn More At:

Human Rights Watch

Friends of Tibet: History of Tibet

Tibet: High Ground

Dalai Lama does not support Olympics boycott

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