Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Are the Torch Relay Protests Good for Tibet?

Olympic torch protests in Paris, San Francisco, and now New Delhi are getting wide media attention and are captivating the world's attention.  However the question that interests me is not whether Tibet should be its own country.  My own political convictions aside, I think the answer depends on who you ask.  Rather, the question people should be asking is - are the torch relay protests helping or hurting the cause of Tibetan independence?

I believe the protests are hurting the Tibetan cause.  The struggle for Tibet is one that ongoing for a half century and has included the suppression of numerous uprisings and has involved significant bloodshed on both sides.  In this context the worldwide protests that have been occurring in recent weeks in response to the violence seen in Tibet last month seem nothing less than a gross politicizing of the Olympic games.  If so many foreigners felt this strongly about Tibet, where were these protests last year when China completed it's Lhasa express railroad?  In fact, where were they in the '50s when they invaded Tibet in the first place?  Clearly, foreign protesters are using the Olympic torch as a rallying cry to express their hostility on the topic of Tibet and other pent up frustrations. 

Why is this bad for Tibetan independence? 

The reason, according to the Chinese government is the Olympics should not be used as a forum to advance a political agenda.  I think that it goes much deeper than that. One must try to understand the Chinese perspective.  I do not think that westerners realize how much importance and emotion the average Chinese person has invested into these Olympics.  Much like the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Chinese have been anticipating the 2008 Olympic games as a global showcase of how far they've advanced as a prosperous competitive free market economy. A Chinese friend of mine once described the Beijing Olympics as a the nation's "Coming Out Party".  Since 2001 the Olympics have been a part of the national dialogue and a great source of pride for the people.  Hence for many Chinese, a protest against the Olympic torch is construed not only as a protest against it's Tibet policy but a protest against the greatness of China itself. 

The hope of the protesters (I assume) is that by drumming enough popular support they can effectively negotiate terms with the government of China.  This is ridiculous.  If protestors really wanted to see change they should be using different means to achieve their goal and/or direct their anger at someone else.  China is not France.  It is not a country that has more transportation stoppages due to strike than it has due to bad weather.  Especially on these matters the Chinese government is a straight communism and it does not care whether someone protests against them or not - especially when it's a bunch of hippies off in some other country.

By using the Olympic torch relay as a platform for their protests the Chinese government has no choice to become even more defensive and maintain an even harder line with it's position on Tibet.  Anything else would constitute a massive loss in face.  The demonstrations, although well intentioned, are making the prospect of a free and independent Tibet far more unlikely. 


Also, I realize I am detracting from my series on Japanese Population decline.  I apologize for this but I thought that I should write about this while it is topical.

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