It’s been gratifying to see and hear so much about China’s Olympic Torch Relay turning into a PR nightmare. Protesters demanding freedom for Tibet are seizing the opportunity to embarrass the Chinese government on a world stage just as the government’s finishing preparations for their international coming-out party. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games were supposed to be a golden opportunity for China to show it’s good side, and to show that they could be, and in fact are, a good international citizen. I don’t know if they simply miscalculated in thinking that their repressive occupation of Tibet would fly under radar…or whether they were too arrogant to admit that Tibet represents a potential (and now very real) embarrassment to China.
The Chinese are fortunate in that a) Tibet has no oil reserves, and b) Chinese capital is underwriting a good chunk of just about all Western economies. Being the 800-lb. gorilla means that they can get by with an awful lot that smaller, less financially flush nations couldn’t. Those of us who believe that Tibet deserves to be free don’t appear to have any problems with tugging on Superman’s cape.
OK, so some of the protests have been theatrical, perhaps even a bit childish. So what? The goal is to draw attention to the plight of the Tibetan people and to Chinese brutality in maintaining their illegal occupation. Mission Accomplished, no? The Chinese are angry and embarrassed…and they should be. Honestly, they should be ashamed- as if the Chinese government could even define and recognize that emotion.
Now is the time for those of us in the West to demand that our governments stand up to the Chinese bully. It’s time to demand that Tibet be freed to once again and regain it’s rightful place in the international community as a sovereign nation. If China refuses, then Western leaders should boycott the Opening Ceremonies and the Games themselves. If a boycott fails to gather steam or to convince the Chinese government, then serious consideration should be given by Western nations to keeping their Olympic teams home. This isn’t an option I recommend lightly; yes, sport and politics (in a perfect world) should be separate. The reality, though, is that sport and politics are for too many countries merely opposite sides of the same coin. Sport has been used to fan nationalist passions and to divert attention from a country’s internal problems. To say, then, that an Olympic boycott is inappropriate because sport and politics must be kept seperate is at best ignorant, and at worst self-serving.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already announced that she will boycott the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing. I applaud her for her willingness to take even a small step, and I strongly believe that other Western governments should follow suit. Ultimately, though, the only thing that stands a chance of breaking China’s intransigence when it comes to Tibet is the threat (and perhaps the reality) of a full-fledged boycott. If China has to face the threat of their coming-out party being diminished, there’s a chance (however slim) that the government’s hand may be forced. Is it worth hanging on to Tibet if it means a significantly diminished Olympic Games?
It’s time to demand that our government does the right thing by threatening a boycott of the Beijing Olympics. As with so many things, it’s possible- perhaps even likely- that other nations will follow America’s lead- if only we have the backbone and the conviction to take this step. Yes, there are those who will argue (and not without reason) that our moral authority and our credibility internationally has diminised significantly over the past eight years. Does that mean we must stand idly by waiting for some other country to do the right thing so we can fall into line? Of course not. We can, and indeed must, take the lead in demanding that Tibet be freed from Chinese repression.
It’s time…and there’s no wrong way to do the right thing.