Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Politicisation of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Torch Relay 1 comments

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The extremely warm reception that China's Olympic Torch Relay runners have been getting from supposedly pro-Tibet protesters in the various Western cities they have passed so far has been alarming, and though I'd like to believe the Western governments have nothing to do with the (seemingly well-coordinated multinational) protests, the veiled threats by various Western leaders to boycott the opening ceremony suggests that indeed, these protests exhibit signs of going all the way up to the top levels.

We have seen TV images of protesters in the Paris and London legs trying to sabotage the relay and then forcing the San Francisco leg to be cut short, casting a pall over the entire global torch relay and generating waves of righteous anger among Chinese citizens not just in China, but ethnic Chinese across the world. This is a continuation of the trend of the politicisation of the Olympic Games, with previous examples being the Berlin Olympics when Adolf Hitler tried to make a case against the blacks, the Munich Olympics when Israeli athletes were murdered by Arab terrorists, the Moscow Games and subsequent Los Angeles Games when Uncle Sam and the Evil Empire plus their respective cliques boycotted each other. The coming 080808 Games looks set to be one of the most politicised in years since the Evil Empire died.

What are the Western countries trying to do by such a show of force? It should be clear that China will not back down from their stand on Tibet or Darfur; they have already demonstrated their political intransigence and the determination to do things at their own pace with respect to renminbi revaluation, for example. It appears that they are purposely trying to make things difficult for China, with the popular interpretation being that the Western countries are jealous of China's rapid rise and are trying to spoil their big party.

It is not really that important how world opinion views it but it IS important how the Chinese leadership will see it. They might treat it benignly, seeing the protests as nothing sinister and showing understanding towards those Western leaders that have threatened boycotts as just opportunistic playing to their respective political galleries. Or they might see it as a deliberate insult and this would be unfortunate for future long-term relationships. On the economic side of it, for example, Europe would have much to lose simply because exports to booming China have driven so much of their growth in recent years.

And why shouldn't the Chinese think that way? The Beijing Olympics has been seen as a coming-out party for China ever since it was awarded years ago, and China has worked really hard to prepare for it, building massive infrastructures, putting a future President in charge of the Games recently, and coming out with all kinds of kooky rules to reduce air pollution such as allowing even-numbered and odd-numbered vehicles to travel on the roads on alternate days. All Chinese (not just mainland, but ethnic in general) hate losing face, and the violent protests and attempts to disrupt the Torch Relay appear to hint at an imminent attempt to spoil the big party on 080808. It is clear that the big issue is never about Tibet or Darfur, those are just platforms for the West to mount their moral high horse and browbeat Beijing into meek rightful Oriental submission. An artificially-induced cock-up at the big event in August will be a massive loss of face and the Chinese will never forget it. Already they operate under a siege and victimisation mentality and any attempts at spoiling the party they have spent billions to prepare will just reinforce that. And all this when they have been trying to maintain a "peaceful rise".

In any case, linking the Games to politics is wrong in itself and the protesters might not care about it, but surely their leaders should know better than to threaten boycotts? That goes against the spirit of the Olympics in itself, which is meant to unite and not divide.

I have been pissed off with the Chinese and their nationalism bred out of their victimisation mentality in the past (eg. attacks on innocent Japanese businessmen and tourists after Koizumi's shrine visits) but in this case I support the Chinese wholeheartedly. There is an outpouring of support for China from ethnic Chinese all across the world and indeed, feelings of racial proximity can transcend time and space. The Olympic Games as a coming-out party for China is also a source of pride for ethnic Chinese the world over, and it is terribly unfortunate if the Westerners through their antics were to instead unite the feelings of Chinese the world over against them.

The Torch Relay passes from South America into friendly territory for the next few legs: Africa, the Middle-East, Pakistan, India, Southeast Asia. The Australia and Japan legs should be uneventful as well. But the early episodes have already left a sour taste in everybody's mouths and hopefully will not be a precursor of things come August.