Sat, Aug 12, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Take your Olympic torch and snuff it

In recent days the Chinese government closed down a local Wikipedia imitator, apparently for daring to refer to the Republic of China and a Falun Gong figure by name. The curious thing about this is that the Republic of China existed long before the controversy over Taiwan's status as a Chinese province, Japanese war booty or an independent state started in earnest.

The symbolism of censoring not just dissidents but also the historical record itself points to a government that is increasingly distant from the everyday world of Chinese people. But that's a problem for the Chinese people to solve.

From Taiwan's point of view, promises of a 2008 Beijing Olympics that would elevate China's status to that of responsible world player and achieve a better balance between politics and economics are looking rather empty. The threats are still there, repression is increasing and the unctuousness of the leadership entertains as thoroughly as always.

So why is our government pussy-footing around with the issue of the Olympics, given that one of its primary political functions for China will be to denigrate Taiwanese aspirations to self-determination? It's high time that the government sent out a short, sharp signal to China: cut out your patronizing and threatening behavior, or the Olympic torch will not be admitted into the country at all, regardless of where it comes from and where it then goes.

Instead, we have been witness to the same wishy-washy ambiguities that have characterized this battle over national symbolism. In the torch's case, this means the possibility of an itinerary that would allow China and Taiwan to each take a piece of the propaganda pie: Let the torch come from another country into Taiwan before hitting China, and both sides can claim whatever they want.

Need it be spelled out? Any agency that allows such ambiguity deserves to be mocked for its comprehensive tactical ineptitude. The effort to combat propaganda, if it is to have any effect whatsoever, must feature unambiguous repelling of the enemy, not just an appeasing of the treacherous and a soothing of the spineless back home.

Taiwan is a free country, at least for now. And in this spirit, Olympic officials should be duly warned: an Olympic torch that passes through Taiwan in the service of a predatory Chinese government will turn into an unprecedented debacle. Protests and specially placed activists positioned on every street corner would obstruct the relay and even extinguish the flame, maximizing embarrassing TV footage for all the world to see.

Given the unchanging tone of threat that China levels at Taiwanese, it would be a debacle richly deserved for local organizers and the International Olympic Committee, which has done Taiwan no favors by pandering to Chinese politics over the years.

Even symbolism born of racist demagoguery such as the Olympic torch relay -- courtesy of Hitler's propaganda geniuses -- can be subverted and turned into harbingers of peace. More than the others, the Sydney and Athens Olympics managed to take out much of the kitsch nonsense that accompanies Olympic ceremonial displays and turned the Games into a more human rather than nationalist event.

This will take a change for the worse with the Beijing Olympics. It is astonishing that are so many people -- including, astonishingly, opening/closing ceremony gun-for-hire Steven Spielberg -- outside of China who think otherwise. It seems that sporting glory is not the only fantasy that the Olympics are capable of producing.

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