Carrying the torch for China reform

By Chelsea Fiddyment

With the 2008 Olympics fast approaching, conversations between spectators and participants alike hover closely around the games. But the location more than the prospective medal winners seems to be the central topic of talk: Beijing.

Ethiopian marathon runner Haile Gebrselassie has turned down a promising chance at placing during the games because of his concerns regarding Beijing’s air pollution and its effects on his body. In 2005, Beijing was actually declared the air pollution capital of the world. While International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge insists that the games will go on, rumors circulate that some competitors will choose to wear masks in order to protect themselves from the industrial smog.

The current state of relations between Tibet and its supporters and the Chinese government is another issue close behind any mention of the Beijing games. The injury and death tolls from civil unrest and rioting that begin in Lhasa on March 10 are frighteningly varied. Tibet’s government-in-exile and those in favor of it insist that hundreds have been killed and their bodies burned by Chinese military forces, while China itself maintains death estimates numbering anywhere between 10 and 30.

And it would be most egregious not to mention that the protest that set off this latest bout of unrest between China and Tibet was a commemoration of the failed Tibetan uprising in 1959. China has a long and suspicious history regarding human rights violations, currently most discussed in relation to Tibet.

Following this month’s interaction between Chinese authorities and pro-Tibet protesters (including the disruption of the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony), the government even threatened to block live broadcasting from the games to decrease the likelihood of dissenters getting airtime.

Despite statements to the contrary, it seems that the situation between the two parties worsens with each passing day. The Dalai Lama has stated that he does not oppose the Beijing Olympics, but many news sources make mention of the possibility of an Olympic boycott by other countries. While the much-awaited event may encourage the Chinese government to begin instituting environmental and social changes, it seems highly unlikely that many things, including Tibet-China relations, will improve.

Both the European Union and the United Nations have encouraged China to tread carefully in its interactions with Tibet, as well as the United States, Australia and Canada. However, the simple fact that athletes are still being sent to Beijing makes all involved somewhat complicit in the continued persecution of Tibetans and their exiled leaders. China hopes to foster national unity with the Olympic opening festivities including the torch-lighting ceremony and the torch relay, and plans to enforce it by taking strict security measures around the torch’s path.

The Chinese government is not the only party who needs to rethink its course of action. Admonishment for violence on the part of Tibetan protesters is sorely needed. The population has more of a chance to make an impact internationally through peaceful protest, which also complies with the Buddhist beliefs so strongly present in the region.

Rioters on March 10 in Lhasa killed innocent Chinese civilians as well, burning and looting the area. The tension present between Tibetans and Chinese has begun to show its basis in ethnic hatred, something which we as an international audience cannot allow to continue.

Looking at the abysmal environmental conditions and human rights troubles alone, it would behoove other governments and human rights councils globally to consider the possibility of an Olympic boycott. Advice from prime ministers and secretaries of state means little when our actions worldwide fail to back it up. If other nations truly seek to incite change for the better in Beijing and China as a whole, this is our starting point – on your marks, set, go.

Chelsea is a junior in English and music and spotted a group of junior girl scouts selling cookies in front of Legends.