OLYMPIC GAMES: by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
Clean-up or purges? Beijing prepares for the Games
, May 24, 2008
Observers in Beijing report that the atmosphere in the Chinese capital on the eve of the Olympics is tense.
China's Communist rulers are locking down Beijing tighter than a drum in the lead-up to the Olympic Games. They are leaving nothing to chance, down to the start date on August 8, 2008.
Eight is the most auspicious number for Chinese, who say these will be the "Lucky Games" — but not lucky for some, such as dissidents and the Tibetans, who are feeling the full force of the crackdown.
One prominent Australian businessman, who has been in Beijing for over 30 years, says the atmosphere in Beijing is tense. Beijing has been booming, with the city's expansion in recent years taking over vast swathes of the surrounding countryside; but getting on the wrong side of the authorities is still a sure recipe for going broke, and so this businessman, who has links to the highest levels of the Chinese and Australian governments, wishes to remain unnamed.Censorship
Travellers returning from China report that, thanks to the government-controlled media, nothing of the controversial nature of the disturbances in Tibet is getting through to the general population.
Most foreign travellers are relatively privileged, with access in upmarket hotels to the BBC and the US-based 24-hour television news channel CNN. But when reports of Tibet come on, the screen goes blank.
George Farley, chairman of the Australia-Tibet Council, says very little news is getting out of Tibet. The few journalists allowed into Tibet reveal that all news is totally stage-managed, restricted currently to reporting the progress of the "special Olympic flame" from the Everest base-camp on the Chinese side of Mount Everest, to the top of the world's highest mountain.
Apart from the few chaperoned newsmen, no foreigners are being allowed into Tibet — meaning a total lack of independent reporting — and no foreign observers, or even tourists. Tibet has been totally locked down. This will continue at least until June, when the Olympic flame traverses Tibet.
Normally, Tibet is a popular destination for Chinese tourists over the May Day holiday, but even there, the numbers have shrunk to a few hundred.
Reports from clandestine sources say that the Communist authorities are attempting to shut down Buddhist monasteries. At least four major monasteries have had power and water cut off, with food having to be smuggled in.
Following the recent disturbances, Tibetans with physical injuries are so frightened of being reported as demonstrators that they are not seeking medical attention. The Paris-based medical aid organisation, Doctors Without Borders, has requested access to Tibet to treat ailing Tibetans, so far with no response.
As reported in the Australian media, the Chinese authorities are meeting with representatives of the Dalai Lama, led by his personal representative Lodi Gyari. So far, a second round of talks has been scheduled.
While some have condemned the talks as a cold-blooded exercise in public relations to take the heat off Beijing, the Tibet Council's Farley is hopeful something of substance will emerge. US President George W. Bush, along with European Union governments, has called for measurable progress in talks with the Tibetan leader's representatives.
Some clarification is necessary of what the Dalai Lama hopes to achieve. Tibet has never been part of China. The historical relationship between Tibet and China is theoretically like the current relationship between Australia and Britain — an acknowledgment of a formal link, with complete freedom of action internally.
The Chinese campaign against the "ungrateful" Tibetans — whom the Chinese Communists claim to have liberated from slavery and feudalism by means of their 1950-51 invasion — risks fanning the flames of Han Chinese nationalism, a conflagration easily sparked but difficult to extinguish once it takes hold. (The five peoples of China are the Han Chinese, Manchus, Mongols, Muslims and Tibetans, with the dominant Han Chinese accounting far in excess of 90 per cent of the total population).
But not all Chinese have been kept in the dark. The Tibetan situation has been fully reported in Taiwan, which, according to the annual report on the world's press by non-partisan human rights watchdog Freedom House in New York, has the freest press in East Asia. The report attributes Taiwan's good performance to the Taipei government's commitment to judicial independence, economic freedom and a highly competitive media market.
To gain some idea of the quality of Taiwan's media, it is noteworthy that Freedom House ranks it one place ahead of Australia.
The Tibetan situation is delicate for Taiwan. Some 60 per cent of Taiwan's population are nominally Buddhists, who are outraged by the treatment of their co-religionists. The Dalai Lama has visited Taiwan several times and is held in reverence.
As a free country, the people of Taiwan are at liberty to have their voices heard and have done so, loud and clear. On the other hand, the Olympic Games are very popular in Taiwan, not least because the Chinese Taipei baseball team is a good prospect for a medal. Taiwan knocked Australia out of contention in the Olympic tournament.— Jeffry Babb was until last year a Taipei-based journalist.