The Olympics have been so upstaged by complaints about China's human rights record that the central government has reportedly invited several British and U.S. public relations agencies to discuss how to better improve its image.In other words the protests have accomplished nothing. Now how did that come about? For the answer I'll review some recent developments (emphasis throughout mine):
A high-ranking Olympic official declared Wednesday that anti-Chinese protests during the torch relay had been 'unacceptable,' while acknowledging that he had watered down an official statement urging China to settle the conflict in Tibet.It seemed that Britain's Prime Minister had made an unequivocal statement by announcing he would not attend the Olympics opening ceremonies but here's what actually happened:
Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said he is sticking to a plan to attend the closing ceremonies of the Olympics, while sending his sports minister to the opening celebrations.In Brussels, the European Parliament voted 580-24 to call on European Union government leaders to consider boycotting the opening ceremonies unless China resumes negotiations with the Dalai Lama. But:
The non-binding resolution floated "the option of non-attendance" to pressure China to talk to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.In the United States, the Leader of the Free World announced after consultation with the senior minister of Singapore's authoritarian government that Beijing's leaders should reach out to the Dalai Lama. But President Bush continues to insist that he will attend the opening ceremonies in Beijing.
What about the resolution passed Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives, and the similar resolution introduced in the U.S. Senate, which call on China to end the crackdown in Tibet and “enter into a substantive dialogue” with the Dalai Lama?
There is absolutely nothing behind either resolution except hot air, and Beijing knows this. There's not even a call to boycott the Olympics in Bejing.
I could go on supplying examples but I think by now you get the picture. Beijing has taken the measure and knows the leaders of the Free World are wafflers.
So the tragedy is going to play out exactly as it did with the crackdown on Burma's protestors:
Before the Olympics starts, Beijing will arrange for a meeting between mid-level officials and representatives of the Dalai Lama. Nothing will come of the meeting but it will give world leaders and China business lobbies the excuse they need to show up at the 2008 Olympics.
In the case of Burma there wasn't much that Western leaders could do. There is something that leaders of the Western Free World can do with regard to the China Olympics, if the leaders can manage to present a united front.
How to explain that novel concept? It means agreeing on a principle then everybody agreeing to stick to it; in this case, sticking to the principle that it's a really bad idea to show political support for China's human rights record.
However, it would be easier for leaders of the Free World to present a united front if His Holiness the Dalai Lama would engage in message discipline, or what used to be called 'coherence' before the word was banned from diplomatic circles.
How can His Holiness practice message discipline in this instance? Well, if you know about the holocaust that China inflicted on Tibet, and if you're the leader of Tibetans in exile, you should leave it to others to praise China's culture.
Also, if you're urging an investigation of China's actions in Tibet, then it's not coherent to opine on the world stage that the 2008 Olympics should be held. You don't have to say the games should not be held -- just don't bring up the subject and reply 'No comment' if anyone asks.
Just -- how to explain? Just don't contradict your position all over the place. If you know China's government is doing really bad things to your people, this is not the time to praise China's culture and be a booster for a bunch of athletic games.
Practicing coherence, forming a united front -- none of this is rocket science. But now we come to the tricky part; here I always have to get down on my tummy and draw little stick figures.
You need to get past the idea of trying to play teacher to the Chinese.
The Chinese have been engaged in diplomatic relations for thousands of years. That means it's taking candy from a baby for China's leaders to deal with your attempts at diplomacy.
There is no combination of carrot-and-stick words you can think up that the Chinese cannot talk their way around. And there is no way your words can change the behavior of the Chinese.
So, announcing that you might or will boycott the Olympics, if China's leaders do not change their behavior, will get you nothing besides smoke in your eyes.
What you can do is change your behavior. How to do this? Act in the manner of a leader of free peoples.
When China's leaders see actions from you, they can change their behavior -- but only in response to your actions to alter your own behavior, not in response to your lectures about what Chinese should do.
So it's not a matter of your yammering at the Chinese about human rights and saying you might not attend their Olympics party. Beijing is just being Beijing. It's you who made a mistake; you should never have agreed to attend the Olympics while China's government was still repressive.
And leaders of the Free World should never have supported the decision by the International Olympics Committee to hold the Olympics in Beijing. However, that decision was made in 2001 -- so for a number of today's world leaders the decision happened before their watch.
In any case, correct your mistake and do so publicly. Announce that you will not be attending any part of the 2008 Olympics because China's government is repressive, and that you made a mistake by agreeing to attend. End of story, and don't change the story, no matter how China's leaders rage.
What you can also do, behind the scenes, is warn Beijing that if they attempt to launch a trade boycott or financial actions in retaliation against any country that supports your decision, you will see to it that the country receives your economic support.
If you combine these actions with coherence of speech and a united front, you've done the best you can to rectify the mistake of the China Olympics and you've well represented the Free World.
Finally, for athletes outside China who want to participate in the 2008 Olympics, do you have any idea what your presence at the games will be supporting?
Read this report from China Human Rights Defenders, which explains that the houses of 1.25 million Chinese were demolished to make way for Olympic venues. Very few of the Chinese who lived in those house have received compensation for being turned out. Remember, or learn, that those Chinese have no rights under law because the communist system does not allow them to own property; the government is the only owner.
And remember, or learn, about the Laogai:
In China the abundant work force often costs nothing: they are prisoners condemned to hard labor. Further, the raw materials are sometimes the prisoners themselves: their dead bodies are used for the cosmetic industry and the illegal traffic of organs.Visit this site for reports on U.S. Congressional Hearings, Briefings, Testimony and Resolutions on the Laogai and Human Rights in China.(1)
We are referring to the Laogai, which in Chinese means “reform, reeducation through work.” These are the concentration camps which are the foundation of the Chinese prison system as well as its “economic” system.
This is where toys, clothes, mineral products, etc., are produced, the fruit of the 18-20 hours of daily labor of prisoners, mostly political dissidents, in their daily efforts to complete the “rehabilitation process” they were sentenced to by the representatives of the Chinese Communist Party.
[...] How many Laogai are there? It is impossible to know [...] because they are continuously closed and re-opened in different places. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch estimate that at present there are circa 1000 camps with 6,000,000 prisoners.
I know that you trained for years to participate in an event that should be a tribute to human potential. But realize that naming today's China as a site for the Olympics was an awful affront to humanity.
1) MIDNIGHT UPDATE
A reader thinks the number of Laogai camps and prisoners cited in the above article may be old or an exaggeration. The reader supplies the figures: 500,000 prisoners in 310 're-education' camps. But the reader didn't supply a source for those figures. Half a million sounds low to me yet there is the problem of getting accurate data, as noted above. Any figures are going to be a very rough estimate. However, the article's main points about the Laogai are beyond dispute.