Sat, Mar 15, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Tibet: Now the debacle starts

The portents are bad: The day that the qualifying tournament for the Olympic baseball competition finished in Taiwan was the day that Beijing commenced its violent crackdown on Buddhist monks and other protesters in Tibet and Gansu Province after a week of protests.

Local sports fans may be delighted at the good fortune of the national baseball team, especially in light of its poor performance in previous contests. But for Taiwanese looking at the bigger picture, the thrill should be seriously dampened by the reports of a massive police mobilization, gunfire and burning of buildings in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.

Pre-Olympics pressure against the Chinese government over its many ugly faces has focused on its funding and arming of Sudan's murderous government. This pressure is well earned, but in terms of sheer scale, the number of people that Beijing oppresses within its own borders has not received the attention that it deserves.

Until now.

It is difficult to see how Beijing can deal with the disturbances without angering or embarrassing its sympathizers in the West. Its inclination is to use total force to extinguish Tibetan expressions of dissent, but to do so threatens to conflagrate an already delicate domestic mood.

The opposite strategy -- a negotiated solution with Tibetan leaders in exile and religious figures in Tibet -- remains out of the question: Such a concession would be revolutionary and precipitate changes in other parts of the country that would be seen as a threat to the Chinese Communist Party.

The likely approach will fall somewhere in between. A media blackout and selected arrests in monasteries and elsewhere -- but also a concerted effort to minimize the use of violence in more conspicuous locations. The Chinese can afford to exercise restraint, because once the Olympics are over they can resume special treatment for dissidents at any level of violence they choose.

With the British government already expressing concern over the unrest in southwest China, it remains a matter of time before more conscientious governments in the West -- especially those in northern Europe -- begin to juggle the implications of recommending an Olympic boycott to the national Olympic committees.

As for the Tibetans, it is becoming increasingly apparent -- in no small part because of the Dalai Lama's more direct criticisms of Beijing in recent days -- that the Olympics might be their last chance to appeal to the world for something approaching dignified treatment by a government that wants to overwhelm, marginalize and denude them.

The situation is thus likely to worsen until Beijing faces the impossible dilemma of sacrificing either Olympic glory or its self-declared right to molest its national minorities.

There are five months until the Olympics. With this early outbreak of public anger against despotism, the time ahead is bound to increasingly rattle Olympic sponsors, frighten the Chinese government and unnerve even the most mercenary of International Olympic Committee bureaucrats.

For everyone else with a trace of conscience and a grasp of diplomacy, the truth is out: The Beijing Olympics debacle has begun.

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