Monday, April 7, 2008

The Olympic Torch in San Francisco

No one wants a repeat of the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, in which the world largely went along with an event propagandizing the triumphs of the Third Reich. Yet there is also a wariness to jump to such a comparison between the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the Olympics of over seventy years ago. Sure, China's human rights record is egregious, and its foreign policy, while less destructive than the United States', is quite repugnant, but they are also not retooling their economy for war, nor are there signs of ingrained racism in the government. Many say that exerting positive pressure on China to change its behavior towards Tibet, the situation in Sudan, Myanmar, and North Korea, is a far better approach than condemnation and negative pressure. The Olympics, these positive pressure proponents argue, is a perfect opportunity to cajole China towards less authoritarianism at home, and more constructive world citizenship abroad. Show China the benefit of world respect, and they will, possibly slowly at first, begin to come around to emulating the better parts of free, western democracies.
There are signs that such an approach towards China can work, to an extent: China has responded to international pressure on many international issues. But when it comes to domestic policy, international positive pressure has done little to soften China's authoritarian tendencies. The internet is still on lock down, Taiwan is still part of China - although recently Taiwanese seem to have acquiesced - Tibet is forced to accept Chinese control, and democracy is a long-way off. Recent events in Tibet show that even with the world's eyes on China in the lead-up to the Olympics, the Communist government is leaving little room for compromise. While not as brutal as the '89 crackdowns, the events in Lhasa last month show very little softening in China's approach to domestic unrest.
On April 9 the Olympic torch will be run along the Embarcadero in San Francisco under unprecedented security. The ceremonies have so far been marred by protests throughout the world. In London, the torch was almost put out by protesters with fire extinguishers, and in Paris, the torch had to be doused a number of times so that it could be rerouted around thousands of protesters. Many people have asked themselves the question of what their response should be to the Beijing Olympics, and the answer has been quite simple: protest. While it may not change China's ways, it certainly satisfies the motivation to do something, anything, in the face of injustice. On Tibet inparticular, China has chosen not only an abusive policy, but also a policy that does not make any sense, and they ought to know that the international community can't stand by as they crack down on a subjugated people. So on April 9th, after my class, I'll head down to the Embarcadero and join in with the protesters.

The events in Paris:

1 comment:

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