Sunday, April 27, 2008

Approaching Journey's end for the "flame of shame"

The Olympic flame is nearing the end of its world tour. It will shortly be in Hong Kong and start a tour of China that will no doubt be tightly controlled and presumably incident free.

Since the large protests in London, Paris and San Francisco, it has attracted much less attention mainly due to the fact that the authorities in each country it visited have imposed maximum security on the relays. In some cases this meant running it round a stadium in front of invited guests. In others cases, most notably India, it meant shutting down the host city with massive security and running it along a significantly shortened route.

The other feature has been that in countries with significant Chinese communities, many of Chinese descent have turned out to "defend" the flame out of national pride. Quite why all those living in Australia and elsewhere feel so strongly about Chinese pride but choose to remain living outside China is perhaps an issue for another day.

Nonetheless it should not go unsaid that many Chinese appear to feel strongly in favour of the Olympics and whatever the recent history do not take kindly to foreign criticism of their country. This is not unnatural and should be taken into account by all those who hope for greater freedom in China.

Criticism of China should not unwittingly serve to bolster nationalist sentiment and support for the Chinese government.

However this may be unavoidable as some things still need saying. There is something quite disturbing about the more zealous pro-China protestors. As the flame toured Seoul, South Korea, today some chaotic street scenes not really seen since the start of the journey occurred. However the difference was that pro-Chinese demonstrators were out in massive force. Anyone who shouted "Free Tibet" in Seoul was probably therefore being a thousand times braver than someone who shouted the same in London and Paris.

Here is a rather unsettling clip of a group of pro-China protestors descending on someone who dared speak out against the "orthodoxy" that the Chinese government is absolutely wonderful. I am not sure if they are Tibetan or otherwise opposed to the Chinese government. Their bravery is certainly great. It shows that China is not a dictatorship on the verge of collapse. It is is one supported by many with apparent nationalist fervour as seen by the flag wielding olympic supporters who corner someone with a different view in a Seoul hotel lobby:

I hope the meeting between a representative of China and a representative of the Dalai Lama can achieve something but one would have to be pretty sceptical at this stage. Many of the pro-China protestors really seem to believe the Beijing line that the Dalai Lama is a "wolf in monk's clothing" and while the Chinese economy continues to boom seem quite happy with the status quo. This is a disappointment for the cause of freedom in China. Nonetheless the struggle will continue. Maybe when the economy ceases to grow at 10 % per annum and the Olympic roadshow has passed on, a few more in China will start to question the lack of freedom to speak even if there is freedom to make money.

For now, I honour all those with the courage to speak out especially when they face serious intimidation or worse for doing so.

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