Tibet media ban damages Beijing's cause

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2008, 12:00am

With an air of tension and uncertainty still gripping Lhasa, the political fallout of the Tibet riots on the Olympic Games is too early to tell.

Scenes of unrest in the Himalayan city, however, have already cast a long shadow over the Games.

This is despite the fact it still looks unlikely the Chinese crackdown in Tibet might trigger a groundswell of calls from foreign governments and athletes for the boycott of the Games.

Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, has made it clear repeatedly he is opposed to the idea of boycotting the Summer Olympics, saying it would penalise athletes.

However sympathetic they are to the cause of the Tibetan government-in-exile, western governments have been extremely cautious. Even the Dalai Lama has rejected a boycott of the Games.

The idealism of the Olympics being above politics aside, there is a widely held consensus in the international community on the vital importance that the Beijing 2008 Olympics must be a success.

Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of China's open and reform policy, the summer Olympics will provide a perfect opportunity for the country to demonstrate its determination and commitment to further embrace with the other parts of the world.

China, meanwhile, is fully aware of the enormous stakes involved in the Olympics as manifested in its official slogan: 'One world, one dream.' Through the Games, the ruling Communist Party is keen to project to the world an image of openness, progress and harmony.

With China's political and economic might growing, the international community felt the increasing importance of engaging the 1.3 billion-populated nation closer.

That, as the Tibet riots have illustrated, will prove to be a process fraught with difficulty and dilemma.

Not surprisingly, the mainland authorities have blamed the Dalai Lama for masterminding the pro-independent disturbances. Television footage carried by the state-run media that showed acts of violence by protesters seems to have justified the use of force and the massive search for troublemakers by the mainland authorities.

But the eruption of protests has again highlighted the reality that Beijing's policy towards Tibet might have sown the seeds of conflict. Claims of 'cultural genocide' by the Dalai Lama might sound like exaggeration. The outbursts indicate long-standing grievances and discontent among Tibetans towards the mainland authorities.

With the international media and community beginning to set their eyes on China in the countdown to the Olympic Games, the stage is set for fresh conflicts on old controversies such as Tibet.

The Tibet riots last week sounded an early warning to mainland authorities of the enormity of challenges and difficulties in managing the risks that might surface ahead of the Olympic Games.

How Beijing handles the riots will be assessed on the basis of its pledge for an open, tolerant and progressive society.

For now, the gap between ideal and reality is still wide. The mainland authorities' order for Hong Kong and overseas journalists to leave Lhasa verging on a news blackout says a lot about Beijing's paranoia about a free, independent press.

This does not augur well for China to turn the Olympic Games into a catalyst for change towards openness and transparency, tolerance and modernity.

Superficially, massive publicity of scenes of armed police and armoured vehicles in the city centre of Lhasa is the last thing Beijing wants. But if that publicity had come from overseas journalists allowed to report from Tibet, it would have been the best publicity Beijing could get for the country's rise to global influence and acceptance.

Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large. [email protected]