Sat, Apr 28, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Good riddance to the Olympic torch

The disingenuousness of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is breathtaking. To allow China to host an Olympics at all should have been warning enough; for IOC officials to now feign surprise at Taiwan's unhappiness with its proposed torch route suggests that there are still many feeble words and actions to come from them in the months to come.

But it's hard to imagine more feeble words than IOC officials pleading for Taiwan to separate politics from sport, apparently oblivious of the IOC's employment of the Olympics in Games past to heal political differences between states.

Already the expression "Genocide Olympics" has been coined for 2008, apparently in reference to the horrors in Sudan, whose murderous government is close to a client state of China. Yet the word "genocide" could one day also apply to Tibet, whose lands are being co-opted by Chinese migrants and whose indigenous inhabitants face ruinous political, cultural and religious oppression.

On current performance, the IOC is going to struggle to deal with the objections of human rights activists and like-minded world leaders who are disgusted by China's misrule and its lack of accountability on human rights.

The idiocy of Beijing, meanwhile, continues to impress. Its officials do not seem to understand the jurisdictional difference between a government and an Olympics committee. The Chinese can be forgiven in one respect: For them, there is no difference in practice. But in most other countries, Olympic committees are separate from government even if they work closely with government.

More importantly, the committees answer to the IOC. That is why the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee came up with a compromise route that was offensive to Taiwanese sensibilities and has been brought to heel by the Taiwanese government. And the assumption that the committee could negotiate an agreement with Beijing that would override government objections is laughable.

The presence of the torch was always going to be "political"; the real question was how the politics was going to be employed and whether an understanding was ever possible between Taipei and Beijing.

The fact that the Olympic torch's journey within Taiwan was restricted to the metropolis of Taipei suggests that the Chinese and the IOC took the ridiculous name of "Chinese Taipei" all too literally. If there had been a sincere attempt to coax Taiwanese into the spirit of the Games, the torch route might have been able to go elsewhere -- Kaohsiung, the east coast, rural Taiwan, an Aboriginal village or two. Instead, the whole process smacked of tokenism -- and possibly a kickback to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which holds power in the capital.

It is difficult to see how a compromise can be reached without either side backing down, and neither side will be inclined to do so.

But if by some miracle the torch ends up on Taiwanese soil, no one who cares about Taiwan's freedom from Chinese violence could deny the right of people to protest its presence. And what a circus would result, with images beamed around the world (but censored in China): groups of colorfully dressed protesters from all around the country, on every street corner, on every sidewalk, hanging out of windows -- all holding big buckets of water.

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