07 April 2008

Olympic Boycott? Only a Matter of Size

You can almost hear the muttering and moaning inside the Zhongnanhai compound. The Chinese Communist leadership knows its dream Olympic showcase is slowly turning into an unfathomable nightmare.

The fuse was lit by a small and somewhat organized riot/protest in Lhasa in mid-March. After some killing and shooting, it's become a worldwide spectacle. First, London. Then, Paris. Tomorrow, San Francisco. Unless China and the IOC decide that they've had enough and send the torch straight to Hong Kong and never wander outside of the Bamboo Curtain again.

But this had to happen. Even if it's for all the wrong reasons. Yes, China's oppression in Tibet is deplorable. Yes, China's continued enabling of the Sudanese regime is regrettable. But at the end of the day, China's most egregious violations of human rights occur everyday in China proper. If anything, the protests really should be about the billion-plus Chinese who are not free.

China has chucked all of its promises -- the promises that won it the Games in 2001 -- into the vast cesspool of the Three Gorges Dam. Press freedom? What are you talking about? One more word out of you it'd be jail time, or deportation if you're fortunate enough to have a non-PRC passport. Respect for human rights? Sure, but if you don't toe the company line then we'll try -- and certainly convict -- you for treason and subversion.

For all their meticulous scheming, the Chinese Communists never made much contingency for this kind of spontaneous, globe-trotting combustion, timed precisely to ruin their best-laid plans. All the activists out there, whether their cause is Tibet or Darfur, have been licking their chops at this opportunity to make China squirm. All the better for them, they're getting maximum press coverage while exercising their freedom of speech in the friendly confines of western cities.

Short of shutting down the torch relay now, there is no way that the Chinese government can contain a worldwide opposition to its hosting of the Olympics at this point in time. There will be more trouble ahead in New Delhi and Canberra, and maybe other points in between.

And disruption of the torch relay now serves merely as a prelude. French president Nicolas Sarkozy has suggested snubbing the Opening Ceremonies. Attendance by President Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also has become a hot topic of discussion. With it, a number of western nations will have to seriously consider boycotting the Games all together.

The Chinese Communist leaders are in full damage-control mode. Is it possible for them to stifle all dissent within China, including Tibet, until August and allow all this furor to die down? It's possible. But in this internet age, even a totalitarian regime cannot be certain of controlling all information to its liking. Should there be more bloodshed or more show trials, the rest of the world will find out about them soon enough. And when it does, China will pay the price.

The train has left the station. The 2008 Beijing Olympics promise to be the most politically charged Games since the semi-aborted affair in 1980. The question is: Will they be befallen by the same fate that doomed the Moscow Games?

Yes. A boycott is all but a certainty, only the size of the boycott is in question.

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