I only used to deal with Free Tibet every time there was a club day at my University. I regarded it with the same curious sidelong glance that I would give “Free Mumia”, “End Circumcision” or any other pet issue that required more charity than sense. Now that Beijing has decided to enter the first world and host an Olympic games, the Free Tibet issue has now plopped into everyone’s cornflakes and everyone seems to have their own opinion on it. You have the Free Tibet movement that wants everyone to boycott the games, the Chinese government and many immigrants who say nothing is going on in Tibet, the Tibetans themselves who are peacefully protesting and getting truncheoned for their trouble, the athletes who just want to participate, and everyone else in between. I guess it’s time for me to weigh in.
First off, no one has anything to gain by boycotting the Olympics. Not the Chinese, not the Athletes and most certainly not the protesters. Free Tibet tried to block Beijing’s bid to the games, but the move seems silly in retrospect. By taking a fire extinguisher to the Olympic Torch Free Tibet has gone from annoying buzzing sound to the elephant in the room. They couldn’t have garnered more international attention if they tried. Once the games are on, there’s a good chance they can actually be heard within China itself, whether it’s through smuggling propaganda or calling on a few athletes to make their voice heard.
And as for China, I have no sympathy. They want to have open trade and relations with the free world, yet the government believes it can pull all this Soviet-era crap on its own people. They cannot have it both ways. Their actions in Tibet may make sense to them. It may have been an authoritarian Theocracy before they took over. Foreign powers may have used dissident provinces of China against the nation at large in the past. But if they truly want to join the first world, they’re going to have to learn that the last thing you want to do to malcontents is make martyrs out of them and then lie about it to a media-savvy world.
I believe that the games are a wonderful venue for the world to come together in a spirit of friendship and competition. I also believe that engagement can do much more than trade embargoes and boycotts ever could. However, there is no place for secret police and national firewalls in an increasingly democratic world. When one country engages in such practices, it affects everyone. Companies and individuals are made to kowtow to a dictatorship that they never voted for. Sure, China’s a different culture, but at the end of the day we have to accept that some things work and some things do not work. China’s response to Tibet is not working.