Use Olympic Games to educate China

Use Olympic Games to educate China

Concerned Netizen in Malaysiakini

I refer to the Malaysiakini article Fire on the roof of the world.

I am quite alarmed at China’s response to protests held in Tibet and surrounding regions. Daily we see protests about it along the Olympic torch run, and I wonder why we don’t hear more protests here in Malaysia. The Olympic games lend an excellent opportunity for the world to pressure China to do better in its treatment of others.

Some say that such a move is politicising the Olympic games when they are only about sport. But I beg to differ as there has always been a political element in the games. That’s why countries fight so hard to host them; so that they can show off their might and economic wealth on the world stage.

That’s why these games mean so much to the Chinese government today. From the moment they were granted the right to host the games, it has been a political issue for them. It’s not really about having a good natured contest between countries.

It’s about showing off economic clout, national power and glory. Good sportsmanship, peace and harmony are a very distant second. It’s China’s coming out party and they don’t want anyone to rain on it.

If China continues to go down the path of repression and violence, I don’t believe I can honestly turn on my television set and watch the games. It would be like taking part in a glamorous party while crowds of people outside are beaten, jailed and tortured.

It simply sickens me that we can go on with these games as if nothing is happening. Which to me is giving China the message that it can continue to have it’s cake (persecuting others or support persecution) and eat it too (world influence and ascendancy).

It’s as though that many countries and athletes in the world are saying that it doesn’t matter how China conducts itself as a nation, we will continue to support them and applaud them. I sincerely hope that heads of state will boycott the opening and closing ceremonies and that athletes will take a stand and not participate in the games.

It’s definitely a sacrifice on their part, but it sends a strong and clear message that human life is valued above fame and glory. If there are other ways to apply pressure, then we should do so. Nothing will change unless there is some pain on the part of the Chinese government. A loss of ‘face’ along with economic pain just might be the catalyst to make a difference in the lives of those who face persecution daily.

I used think it was a mistake that China was given the chance to host the games, now I believe it’s a golden opportunity for world to make a difference. If we miss this opportunity, it frightens me about what things China might demand of or take from the rest of the world as they gain more economic and military might.

I’m not so sure I want a country like China to become a world power if they continue to believe that they don’t have to shoulder any of the responsibilities that come with being a world power. Do we really need another world power with the potential to abuse the rest of the world?

Fire on the roof of the World

Sim Kwang Yang in Malaysiakini

Judging from some public commentaries and private conversations among Malaysians of Chinese ethnic persuasion on the issue of Tibet, more than a few of them have embraced the monolithic narrative of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) hook, line, and sinker.

According to them, the Tibet upheaval is a matter of law and order, a series of riots by criminal elements among the local ethnic Tibetans who have been organised, trained, supervised, and probably funded by the Dalai Lama’s government in exile. In this tale, the Dalai Lama is en evil liar who would stoop so low as to tarnish the image of the Beijing Olympics just to further his cause of independence for Tibet.

This official narrative will also accuse ‘Western media” like the BBC and the CNN of trying to spread lies throughout the world about the PRC and the Tibet issue, in order to give their political masters a leverage over the PRC in all kinds of international negotiations.

Meanwhile, the whole media machinery in the PRC from the official Xinhua News Agency, the People’s Dailies, to the various CCTV stations will bombard the international airwaves with the real “facts” about China and Tibet.

Why many Malaysian Chinese will embrace such an account so uncritically is curious in itself, but that is not my concern for the moment. My central question is this: how are we going to make sense of the Tibet issue at all?

Proud coming-out party

First, we must have a standpoint, a perspective from which we can examine the whole controversy. I suggest we have to forget for the moment that we are members of any ethnic community, and forget that we may have cultural, historical, or even social relation with any nation-state of the world. This would be after the fashion of what John Rawl’s would call his “veil of ignorance”.

When we look at China thus, we find a member of the international community of nation states, fast emerging as the third largest economy of the world, with military strength to match its economic prowess, and with obvious aspiration to become a top-notch superpower of the world. The Beijing Olympic Games is their proud coming-out party.

We also find a one party state with hard totalitarian rule by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over her 1.2 billion citizens. Like all totalitarian one party states past and present, the ruling party is equated with the government and the state.

Naturally, any criticism of the government or the ruling party is regarded as an act of treason in China. As I write, news has just reached us that the dissident Hu Jia has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison. His crime consists of giving interviews to foreign press and publishing a few articles purportedly criticising the government.

It is an understatement to say that there is little freedom of expression in the PRC. Strict censorship and the ubiquitous secret police are probably the norms.

Patriotic Chinese nationals and their sympathisers in the global Chinese Diasporas may argue that human rights and freedom of speech are not what China needs. They may further posit the view that given the convoluted historical background of modern China, their large territory, and their very complex demographical composition, they need a strong centralised government to hold everything together. The benevolent dictatorship of the CCP is the key to the economic miracle of the PRC in the last three decades.

That may, or may not, be entirely true. It does not seem that this argument can be true for eternity. But I would not get into an argument about this point, yet.

One obvious difficulty with the lack of freedom of expression in China is both immediate and critical on the issue of Tibet though.

Natural fairness

With no alternative or independent media reporting from Tibet, how are we going to verify or falsify the Chinese official version of what has happened in that relatively isolated province sitting on top of the roof of the world?

Unlike passionately patriotic Chinese citizens and their sympathisers throughout the global Chinese Diasporas, people like me around the world cannot take the words of any government in any country on their face value on mere trust alone.

There must also be many people like me who subscribe to some notion of natural fairness. In any quarrel, wither between two neighbours, or between any government and some of their people, the views of both contending parties must be given equal time and equal space in the media. The party accused of wrong doing must then enjoy their natural right for full reply in their self-defence.

That the media is dominated by the ruling BN coalition in Malaysia is the reason why I and my friends in Malaysiakini have been labouring and chiselling away at this bamboo curtain of unfair reporting. If the newly formed Pakatan Rakyat turns out to be as bad as the BN, I am sure we will also criticise them without fear or favour.

In the case of the Tibet crisis, is it not a little strange that we have heard nothing at all from those parties allegedly doing the public protests and the rioting? Is it not strange that even when a group of foreign media organisations were invited to a guided and rigidly orchestrated tour of Tibet recently, monks were still risking their lives to scream for justice for Tibetans in front of foreign cameras?

If you want to find out the other side of the story, you can go to the internet, and simply type “Tibet” on http://www.google.com. There you will find other versions of the Tibet story, especially events leading to the escape into exile of the Dalai Lama in 1959.

On March 12, 1959, when protesters marched through the streets of Lhasa, demanding Tibetan independence from Chinese rule, Chinese troops moved in. According to the Office of Tibet in London, 86,000 Tibetans were killed that day. In the days that followed, thousands of monks were executed or arrested, while many monasteries and temples were destroyed.

The overseas Tibetan websites also give many accounts of the intervening decades since then describing how the mass migration of Han Chinese into Tibet has made the Tibetans a minority in their homeland. They have described how the PRC efforts to assimilate ethnic Tibetans into the Han culture have endangered their ancient religious, social and cultural legacies.

These stories are the other side of the Tibetan coin that we hear so little about. They may or may not be entirely true, but they give us balance in our view of the current situation in Tibet. They raise the question of whether the Tibetan disturbances in recent weeks are riots or rebellions. They raise doubt that perhaps the disturbances there are not merely criminal acts threatening law and order, but courageous acts of political statement.

Much respected

Meanwhile, we have the Dalai Lama declaring that he is not seeking independence of Tibet from Chinese rule. Rather he is hoping for some degree of autonomy. He has repeatedly requested for some kind of dialogue with the Chinese government, but they seem to have brushed aside this proposal with a great show of contempt.

All along, the Dalai Lama has propagated his idea of non-violence in this political impasse. He is much respected outside China. Why, he has been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, and of all things Western, the Nobel Award is one of the more credible institutions to the non-Chinese world. To paint him as the head of a terrorist organisation may work in the closed society within the PRC, but such demonising propaganda is a little hard for me to swallow.

The ocean of official statements and public opinions issuing forth from Mainland smacks of Cold War rhetoric. Their tone and the argument are coarse, displaying a kind of outdated worldview that borders on the hegemonic.

Lastly, there is this argument about Tibet being the internal affair of China, and the outside world has no business pitting their nose where it does not belong. I am thinking of the holocaust in Germany during WWII. Could the Nazi regime then also make a similar claim, morally?

The hard fact is that we live in an inter-connected world. China is gaining influence on the international stage. The Chinese political-economic juggernaut is spreading its wings to all parts of the developing world, scouring the globe for precious fuel and natural resources to satisfy its ravenous hunger for economic growth.

The PRC is also clamouring for a bigger say in international forum such as the many agencies of the United Nations. With greater prestige and power, comes greater responsibility, to answer to mankind for their handling of the Tibetan dilemma, and a whole host of other issues. Like all other nations on Earth, China cannot claim absolute sovereignty,

China may have looked like a First World nation in her cities like Shanghai and Beijing. But under the veneer of modernity in the coastal developed provinces, China has not yet stepped over the threshold of a Third World nation, if the handling of the Tibet crisis is anything to go by.

One Response

  1. Boycott Beijing 2008

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