No time to close our eyes
If there has been any lesson in all my years as an activist for democracy and human rights in China, it is that only international pressure coupled with internal pressure will yield solid results.
Now, as what the Dalai Lama has called “cultural genocide” goes on in Tibet, it is wholly unacceptable that the International Olympic Committee refuses to take a stand against the Beijing government crackdown.
Far more than Steven Spielberg, who quit his advisory role for the Olympic celebration because of the Chinese government’s unwillingness to pressure the Sudan government over the genocide in Darfur, the Olympic committee has a special obligation to act.
Improvements in China’s human rights were a quid pro quo for granting the games to Beijing. So how can the committee proceed as if nothing has happened when blood is flowing in the streets of Lhasa?
If the committee does not act to put pressure on Beijing, as would be consistent with its obligations, it risks this Olympics being remembered the way the 1936 Games in Berlin were.
Already, the “spirit of the Olympics” in Beijing has become associated with genocide by two of the world’s top spiritual and cultural leaders. Indeed, if the IOC and the rest of the world community does not pressure Beijing to stop the crackdown and improve human rights now, a boycott of the games will be seen as widely justified.
The Tibetans have long chafed under the oppression of the Chinese Communist Party. In 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled to exile in India, the protest of the Tibetans was harshly suppressed in a crackdown that lasted more than a year. Almost a million Tibetans reportedly lost their lives.
In 1989, the current Chinese party leader, Hu Jintao, then in his capacity as a provincial leader, suppressed yet another revolt in Lhasa by bringing in the military to kill people in the streets.
And, of course, the whole world knows about Tiananmen Square in that same year. Clearly, without human rights and the rule of law, neither Tibetans nor the majority Han Chinese are safe from persecution at the whim of the Communist authorities.
The old lies and propaganda don’t work anymore. In the past, many Han Chinese didn’t know about the sufferings of the Tibetans. Now thanks to travel, tourism, cell phones and the Internet, the majority Han understand that the Tibetan struggle against tyranny is the same as their own.
Of course, the Chinese authorities have expressed their willingness to resolve the Tibetan issue through negotiation. But, just as with the case of Darfur, there is no sincerity behind this peaceful face unless international pressure is brought to bear.
The IOC’s unwillingness to pressure Beijing at this moment is tragic because these Olympics are a turning point in modern Chinese history.
By acting as host to the Olympics, the Communist Party’s rulers have turned their palace into a global glass house. They can no longer show the smiling face of the “peaceful rise” of China to the worldand the stern face of brutal suppression at home.
The Olympics will force China to show its true face. Only international pressure, by the IOC and others, will make sure it is the face we all want to see.