China's Dalai Fixation, Olympic "Goon Squad," Etc.

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 4/09/2008 12:08:00 AM
From Merriam-Webster, hyperbole is defined as "extravagant exaggeration." When it comes to name-calling the Dalai Lama, the burghers of Beijing have left no turn of phrase unturned. A few days ago, he was described by the Chinese overseer of Tibet as "a wolf in monk's robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast." If you thought it was impossible to top that hyperbole, think again as it appears Chinese officials are once again on a verbal assault. PRC spokeswoman Jiang Yu states the Dalai Lama wants to put Tibet on the road to the serfdom [!] From our favourite official publication, the China Daily:

China on Tuesday criticized that the Dalai Lama has proved with his own acts that his brag for "peace" and "non-violence" is nothing but lie. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu made the remarks at a regular press conference on Tuesday afternoon when asked to comment on the Dalai Lama's claim in his recent statement that he sticks to his "middle way" approach and does not seek for "Tibet independence". Jiang said the Dalai Lama is the head representative of the serf system which integrates religion with politics in old Tibet.

Such serf system, which harbors no democracy, freedom and human rights in any form, is the darkest slavery system in human history, Jiang said, adding that only the serf owners could enjoy special privileges under such a system. The "middle way" approach that the Dalai Lama is pursuing for is aimed at restoring his own "paradise in the past", which will throw millions of liberated serf back into a dark cage, Jiang said. "Such a 'middle way', who can accept it?" said Jiang.

On the Dalai Lama's claim that he is unconnected with the riots in Lhasa, Jiang said "Dalai has always been dependent on telling lies", noting that it does not matter much about what he said, only what he did. One thing that the Dalai Lama has done recently is to instigate and orchestrate the violence in Lhasa, Jiang said. The Dalai Lama's own acts have proved "peace" and "non-violence" are all lies to cheat people, Jiang said.

Jiang also added that the central government's policy toward the Dalai Lama is consistent and the central government has been patiently keeping contact with the Dalai Lama side. "Our door to conduct dialogue with the Dalai Lama was open in the past and is still open now", Jiang said. Only if the Dalai Lama changed his mind, stopped separatist activities, violence and sabotaging the Beijing Olympic Games, "we are still willing to contact and consult with him", Jiang said.

[UPDATE: The Times of London has more on the men in blue.] Also, you may be wondering who those Chinese guys who run alongside the torchbearers are. Remember the case of someone getting hold of the torch as Konnie Huq paraded it through the (mean) streets of London and subsequently getting pummelled by these guys? There is a back story that I found incredulous at first but makes perfect sense after you factor in the paranoia of Chinese officialdom about the Olympics: These guys are members of the "Beijing Olympic Games Sacred Flame Protection Unit" (I am not making this up; see below), a detachment from the People's Armed Police. What's their brief? That's easy: Get too close and they'll beat the stuffing out of you. If that description doesn't fit a "goon squad" to a T, then I don't know what would. From the Wall Street Journal:

Just who are those guys in the blue-and-white tracksuits and baseball caps? As the Beijing Olympic torch procession has fought its way through crowds of protesters in London and Paris on its way to Wednesday's leg in San Francisco, a squad of blue-clad Chinese men has guarded the flame -- and at times shoved people away who tried to get too close.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said in an interview Tuesday that he didn't know who the men in blue are. British police would say only that they are "torch attendants whose role was to protect the torch." Lord Sebastian Coe, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and chairman of London's Olympic organizing committee, called them "thugs."

The security men appear to be members of the Beijing Olympic Games Sacred Flame Protection unit, a detachment of personnel from China's People's Armed Police. The paramilitary People's Armed Police force has wide-ranging duties, from protecting diplomatic missions to maintaining internal security. Units of the People's Armed Police were deployed to forcibly quell violent unrest last month in Tibet.

Last August, Olympic officials along with police and Beijing city officials held a well-publicized swearing-in ceremony for men recruited from the People's Armed Police special-forces training academy. Their mission: Guard the torch and the lamp containing the flame from Mount Olympus in Greece.

The unit includes 30 people for overseas missions and 40 to escort the torch on its journey through China. Chinese media reported that they had special physical-fitness preparation as well as "etiquette" and language training and practice in driving cars and motorcycles.

Despite the flurry of attention last year, the Chinese government and the Beijing Olympic organizing committee are more reticent now. The spokesman for the Beijing Games, Sun Weide, declined to confirm or deny that the men now running with the torch are from the paramilitary police. "What I can tell you is they are trained to protect the Olympic torch," he said.

A representative for the torch relay, Liu Yiyang, however, confirmed that the torch escorts had been students at the special police academy. The Public Security Ministry and the Ministry of Defense, both of which oversee the People's Armed Police, didn't respond to requests for comment.

China's government often guards information closely, and many aspects of China's Olympic preparations have been kept out of the public domain -- from information about parts of the torch relay route in Tibet to plans to shut down factories and restrict traffic to improve air quality.

The unrest in Tibet, and the role of People's Armed Police, the main force used to put down demonstrations and restore order, has likely reinforced this tendency to secrecy. A person familiar with security arrangements in London said, "We received 12 guys, and we were told these guys would be the inner circle." The person said that British police weren't made aware that the Chinese men were members of the People's Armed Police. A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in London also said he was "unaware" of who made up the security team.

The mystery around the identities of the Chinese guards has received a lot of attention in the British media. Tuesday's political cartoon in The Times of London depicts one track-suited Chinese guard outside No. 10 Downing Street, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown looking at his usual police guard in a beaten-up heap.

As a protester tried to wrestle the torch from TV presenter Konnie Huq, the Chinese guards leapt into action and pushed the protester to the ground, forcing the British police to intervene and snatch him back. In interviews afterward, Ms. Huq described the guards as "aggressive" and "robotic," barking commands at her throughout the run.

The People's Armed Police, a force of 660,000, performs a wide variety of functions in China. The bulk of its members are engaged in internal security work. Large numbers have moved into the Tibet Autonomous Region and parts of neighboring provinces with large Tibetan populations to put down antigovernment protests by Tibetans.

But the People's Armed Police also mans fire brigades across China, and special units are trained for crowd control, diplomatic security, counterterrorism and antihijacking missions. The force is designed to reinforce the country's military during wartime. China has been concerned about security for the torch relay, especially when it became clear that Tibet activists, human-rights campaigners and others had planned large protest rallies to coincide with the torch's visits to cities around the world.

As a last bit of Olympic fun (or whatever is left of it), the WSJ further notes that multiple entry visas into China appear to be in the process of being curtailed to prevent more incursions by troublesome foreigners like sympathizers of the "Dalai clique." This is apparently causing much inconvenience to Western businessmen who must go to the Middle Kingdom on a regular basis:

Recent reports that China has stopped issuing multiple-entry visas for foreigners ahead of the Olympic Games in August could mean complications for business travelers, though the situation was further confused by a Chinese government statement Tuesday.

Several visa agents in Hong Kong, a popular entry point into mainland China, said they received direct word from the China visa office here last week that effective immediately, issuance of the popular multiple-entry visas for foreigners was barred until after the Beijing Olympics. Single- and double-entry visas would be issued instead, they said.

The Web site of Forever Bright Trading, an agency in Hong Kong that helps arrange visas, says the ban will last until Oct. 17. One of its agents said she didn't know if the ban would be extended beyond then. Uncertainty about whether China's immigration rules have changed significantly seems to pertain only to new applications for multiple-entry visas. There have been no reports so far of people holding valid multiple-entry visas having any problems using them.

At Compass Travel, an agent said the ban on applications applied to F-visas, for business, and L-visas, for tourism, and to all foreigners, regardless of nationality. Before, business travelers could obtain visas valid for multiple entries over a three-year period. However, comments Tuesday at a Beijing news conference by Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, indicated no policy change. Asked about Hong Kong tour agents who said a ban has been put on multiple-entry visas, Ms. Jiang replied that China "has not stopped issuing multiple-entry visas for foreign tourists…"

Andrew Work, executive director in Hong Kong for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said he has issued a notice to business travelers warning them that they would have trouble getting multiple-entry visas. "If you work at a big company and you have a professional travel service or secretary, you probably won't notice it that much," he said. "But for the small-businessperson, it's going to be a big hassle…"

The unyieldingly confrontational approach of the PRC is certainly doing it no favours in the world court of public opinion.