Welcome to the Terrordome: Beijing Olympics

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 3/17/2008 01:11:00 AM
The current riots in Tibet seems to be a combination of the Tiananmen massacre and Hurricane Katrina. The violent crackdown represents a rehash of Tiananmen, while the picture of people being treated like second-class citizens in their own land is reminiscent of the aftermath of Katrina. To me, the moment when the US lost its prestige in the eyes of the world did not arise from its failure to calm Iraq or its ongoing economic woes. Rather, images from Katrina revealing the plight of African-Americans made the rest of the world think, "Why exactly would we want to be like this extremely unequal country?" Similarly, the current uprising in Tibet is reminding many about the inequality present in China where native Tibetans are treated with contempt in their own homeland. Given such a level of economic repression as exists in Tibet, there is little wonder that such violent anger has pent up.

I used to listen to the rap group Public Enemy for its consistently interesting social message. Unlike much of today's senseless gangsta rap, Public Enemy posed meaningful questions about the situation of an ethic group whose socioeconomic standing left much to be desired. While the group's politics were occasionally reminiscent of Obama's pastor's, its message had far more resonance than any gangsta rapper's. Watching the group's 1990 video "Welcome to the Terrordome" thus reminded me of the ongoing situation in Tibet of rage against being treated so shabbily. Whereas Dubya had heckuva job Brownie as his fake crisis management official, the PRC's apparatchiks have their fake Panchen Lama to calm no one in particular. From Party mouthpiece Xinhua:

The 11th Panchen Lama Gyaincain Norbu condemned on Sunday the lawless riot in Lhasa, saying the sabotage acts run counter to the Buddhism tenets. "The rioters' acts not only harmed the interests of the nation and the people, but also violated the aim of Buddhism," Panchen said. "We resolutely oppose all activities to split the country and undermine ethnic unity. We strongly condemn the crime of a tiny number of people to hurt the lives and properties of the people," he said.

An outburst of violence on Friday, which Tibetan regional government says was engineered by Dalai clique, has claimed the lives of 10 civilians and caused many injuries. "I hope the incident in Lhasa could calm down soon, and peace and stability would return to the people and the Buddhist followers," the religious leader said. Panchen said he resolutely supports the Party and the government efforts to ensure the safety and stability of Lhasa.

Of course, its good pay lip service to those who installed Norbu. Still, those who have grievances with China's rather non-existent human rights regime are most likely using the Beijing Olympics as a high-profile event to raise awareness of their issues. These are endless. From the WSJ:

This level of global publicity and scrutiny could heighten the fallout for China if it acts too forcefully in Lhasa. Beijing already has come under fire on issues ranging from limiting its people's freedom of expression to its treatment of North Korean refugees and its support for the government of Sudan, which is battling rebel groups in Darfur.

Adidas AG, an Olympic sponsor, said in a statement: "We are concerned to see that people have been injured as a result of protest actions. We hope that the situation will calm down very soon and can be settled through peaceful measures." A spokeswoman for General Electric Co., whose NBC network plans to broadcast the Olympics, said the company isn't changing its plans. The Games are "a force for good," said spokeswoman Deirdre Latour.

South Korea's military government faced a similar dilemma in 1987, when pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets a year before the Seoul Olympics. Fearing the unrest would disrupt the games or persuade the International Olympic Committee to move them, South Korea's political leaders acquiesced to protesters' demands for a new constitution and presidential elections to be held before the Games.

For China, however, failure to restore authority risks emboldening other opponents of its policies. Beijing already is concerned about what it sees as threats from separatist groups of Turkic speaking Uighur Muslims in the northwestern province of Xinjiang.

In particular, China is now chafing at the much-publicized finding of the US-based Human Rights First that the country is by far Sudan's largest arms supplier, especially for small arms. It takes little imagination to figure out what those small arms are being used for. Again from Xinhua come to usual denials:

China denied here Friday a report that accused China of being the largest arms supplier to Sudan, saying its policy on arms sales was "always highly prudent". Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement that China always strictly abided by the relevant resolutions made by the Security Council of the United Nations (UN) and never exported weapons to any country or region under the UN arms embargo.

His remarks were in response to a report by Human Rights First, a U.S.-based rights group, that accused China of being the largest weapon supplier to Sudan. The conventional weapons China exported to Sudan were very limited in number. They only accounted for a small proportion of the country's arms imports, Qin said, criticizing the report as "groundless" and "with ulterior motives".

According to its arms sales regulation, China never sold arms to any non-state entity, and it limited the functions and numbers of arms exports to other countries. All exported arms had user certificates and could not be exported to a third country. The UN and the international community has not yet set an arms embargo or regulations on Sudan.

The Wall Street Journal has another interesting article about how local and foreign activists of all stripes who have timed their protests against Beijing to coincide with the Olympics find that officialdom has lost none of its repressive streak. Expect more of the same as protests against China mount in the lead-up the the Olympics:

Threats by China's government against political dissidents and activists aren't new. But for both sides in this confrontation, the Beijing Olympics is significantly raising the stakes.

"Many of the rights activists see the period between now and August as the time when their claims against the system can be heard more clearly than any time before or after," said Jerome Cohen, a law professor at New York University and an expert in Chinese law…

For China, pre-Olympic dissent presents a Catch-22. China seeks to use the Beijing Games to broadcast a positive message to the world about the country's social and economic progress. Each new arrest silences a potential critic who threatens to hijack that message, and sends a warning to other people who might be contemplating a similar move.

But each arrest risks drawing unwanted publicity. "With fewer than six months to go before the Olympics, the Chinese government has everything to gain and nothing to lose by releasing [Hu]," Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement…

Chinese officials say Olympic dissent is explicitly allowed. Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Tuesday that the government will treat citizens "lawfully" during and after the Olympics. The Beijing police haven't answered questions about Mr. Teng's detention.

The International Olympic Committee is under pressure from both sides. Spokeswoman Giselle Davies said the committee is gathering information on reported cases of human-rights violations and will raise any it might find are related to the Games with the Beijing Games organizing committee."That is part of the Olympic Games' ability to shine a light on wider social issues," she said.