China, The Olympics and Tibet

“The Olympics has always been a non-governmental effort, and that’s one reason it’s succeeded. If you let politics get in the way, there’d probably not be any Olympics.” — Rep. Jim Cooper,  D-Tennessee

It’s like being a little bit pregnant. China is a little bit free. Its economy works in this quasi-capitalist way and the people of China are starting to be a little bit free. Many are working in jobs that take them around the world or at least a long way from home and the money they make and either spent in the cities where they work or take back to the rural communities they come from, has made the youth of China very different than the pro-Democracy fighters of the 1980s and Tiananmen Square. As one passenger going home to China on the first direct flight to Beijing from America’s busiest airport said, “I don’t care much about politics and I trust the government to do the right thing in Tibet.” That is naïve, but it epitomizes the “under 30” view in China, they want to work.

Since all eyes are on China in anticipation of the 2008 Olympics this summer, The People’s Republic wants everything to go smoothly. They are still reeling from the problems with exported goods to the US and around the world and they want good press — only good press.

So when nothing short of uprisings began recently in Tibet leaving 22 or more dead, the Peoples Republic acted. Over 1000 people have been arrested or “turned themselves in” to police in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa according to Communist Party authorities. And in efficient communist form, trials will be held before May 1.

Protests in the region began peacefully on March 10 and turned violent four days later.  Beijing responded with thousands of police and army troops to install peace. In addition to the increase central government response, “ideological education” has been stepped up to build anti-separatist sentiment. 

Beijing desperately wants a return to normal and declared that tourism to Tibet will be up and running by May 1 leading into a 3 day national holiday. But what about the Olympics this summer?

I have long believed that boycotting the Olympics was a bad idea. I didn’t support it in 1980 when Jimmy Carter pulled the entire US team out of the Moscow Olympics. It was wrong then and it will be wrong today. The Olympics is not about what city it is in, it is about the spirit of coming together in competition in a way that you cannot do with your enemy under normal circumstances. Throughout the Cold War, the Olympics showcased the best of a free society without firing a shot.

There have been insertions of politics and even terrorism at the Olympics, the worst case of it was the tragic 1972 Munich Games and the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. Jimmy Carter inserted politics into the 1980 Olympics and I’m not sure if anyone remembers why, but that is just Jimmy. 

But I am a believer in the spirit of the Olympics. Even if countries fall short, just the playing of these games moves us closer to those ideals. In a walk through of sorts by the International Olympic Committee, the committee found that Beijing was ready for the Olympics, including uncensored access to the internet for the media. 

Media representatives are finding that although the People Republic is still reviewing blog entries and articles coming from China by foreign journalists, they aren’t censoring.  From an American sensibility, this is unacceptable — but when you look at it in the perspective of China coming into the real world and being a real player on the world stage, China is showing some accommodation to the world community. 

It is not enough and when tempered by the crackdowns in Tibet; it’s enough to make some people shut the door. But there is an old saying, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” and in the case of China, it’s important to keep them closer.

China has enjoyed the west, especially The United States, having their eye off of them while attending to the global war on terror. But we can’t afford to ignore any longer the repressions of China, even as we observe the Olympics.