Sunday, March 23, 2008

EU to Study Beijing Olympic Boycott over Tibet

The President of the European Union has called upon the EU to study a boycott of the Beijing Summer Olympics over China's continuing strife in Tibet:

European countries should consider a boycott of the Olympics in Beijing if the Chinese government continues to take a hardline attitude to unrest in Tibet, according to the president of the European parliament.

Hans-Gert Pöttering is the latest in a growing list of western politicians calling on China to open talks with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, whom Chinese officials blame for inciting a wave of protests and riots over the past two weeks.

"If there continue to be no signals of compromise, I see boycott measures as justified," Mr Pöttering told Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper ahead of a debate this week about Tibet at the European parliament.

With less than five months until the Olympics begin on August 8, 2008, the Chinese government continues to defend its actions in Tibet, in the hope of minimizing controversy leading up to the games.

It may not work.

China's Response

CNN reports on China's response:

Information barely trickled out of the Tibetan capital Lhasa and other far-flung Tibetan communities, where foreign media were banned and thousands of troops dispatched to quell the most widespread demonstrations against Chinese rule in nearly five decades.

The Chinese government was attempting to fill the information vacuum with its own message, saying Sunday through official media that the restive areas were under control.

Xinhua issued several reports Sunday saying life was returning to normal in areas where protests took place in the wake of the Lhasa riots.

It said "more than half of the shops on major streets were seen reopened for business" in Aba, the center of northern Aba county in Sichuan province. It quoted county Communist Party chief Kang Qingwei as saying government departments and major enterprises were "running normally" and that schools would reopen on Monday.

Aba is where Xinhua has said police shot and wounded four rioters in self-defense. It was the first time the government acknowledged shooting any protesters. Xinhua also said Xiahe in Gansu province was returning to normal after rioting last week.

The government was in control in Maqu, also in Gansu, Xinhua reported, quoting the local government as saying 70 percent of the shops in the city were looted or damaged by rioters.

There was no way of independently confirming Xinhua's reports.

Protests in Tibet

This is a chronological summary of the Tibet protests to date, summarized from various CNN reports:

  • March 10, 2008: Coinciding with the 49th anniversary of Tibet’s failed uprising against Chinese rule that triggered the Dalai Lama’s exile from Tibet, protests erupt in various regions of India where Tibetan activists were planning to commence a 6 months march to Tibet. Their arrival in Tibet was scheduled to coincide with the commencement of the Olympic games. Most of the protesters wore bandages covered in blood, and/or Olympics rings around their necks. Tear gas and rocks were exchanged between citizens and police in India who quickly released an Order banning activists from partaking in the march.

    When Activists in India learned that approximately 300 monks were marching in protest to Chinese rule in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, activists in India chose to defy the government’s Order and began marching towards Tibet in protest.

    Due to the blackout of international media in the Tibetan region, reports of the protests taking place in the Tibet region, were largely based on eye witness accounts and activist groups. It was reported through them that 71 monks were detained as a result of the monks’ protests and that Chinese police and authorities were beginning to surround various areas in Tibet, specifically targeting monasteries.
  • March 12, 2008: the Chinese government issues a letter to China’s mountaineering Association advising that anyone requesting permission to climb mount Everest must be denied. It is reported that China plans to run the Olympic torch through the region, and is fearful of potential protesters interfering with the run.
  • March 14, 2008: Radio Free Asia, reported that three major monasteries in Tibet were completely surrounded by Chinese forces, that some monks were partaking in a hunger strike, and that at least 2 monks had attempted to commit suicide. The Chinese government requested that protesters in Tibet sign an agreement to refrain from future protests, but the request was refused. Unconfirmed reports begin to surface of protests turning violet with alleged gunfire and Chinese shops and windows being burnt.
  • March 15, 2008: Xinhua (China's official news agency) reports 10 deaths as a result of the protests in Lhasa and 61 arrests. Tibetans exiled in India report up to a 100 fatalities.
  • March 17, 2008: A rare video is released showing Chinese police in riot gear and the Dalai Lama speaks out calling for a “probe” of China’s human rights’ policies. He clarifies that Tibet is seeking “autonomy” not “ separation” from China.
  • March 19, 2008: An Austrian tourist releases another video of Tibet showing protesters burn and smash Chinese stores and windows. Xinhua advises that protesters are turning themselves in to Chinese authorities in exchange for promised leniency.
  • March 21, 2008: Xinhua reports that riots have spread into Provinces neighbouring Tibet. Chinese authorities set up Blockades and checkpoints throughout Tibet and neighbouring regions.
  • March 22: Xinhua releases a list of 21 most wanted protesters, offering rewards to tipsters. Its official death toll is raised to 22.
  • Today: China responded, as reported above.

Media outlets continue to have difficulty reporting on the conflict as a result of China's restrictive access to the region and media blackouts.

Toronto Mayor to Attend Chinese Trade Mission

Toronto Mayor David Miller is scheduled to attend a mission to China to discuss various issues, including human rights policies, climate change and free trade on April 13- 15. The Toronto Star reports that the mayor has confirmed that the mission will proceed in spite of the ongoing controversy.

During the International Olympic Committee's vote to determine the host of the 2008 summer Olympic games, Toronto came in second to Beijing.

Growing Controversy

An assortment of additional, ongoing controversies in China are at the root of various other calls for a Beijing Olympic boycott:

  • Animal cruelty: In preparation of the Olympic games, China’s clean up of stray cats includes cramping them into cages and sending them to “death camps” at the edges of the city. The cat cleaning controversy is occurring just one year after the government implemented the same procedure for stray dogs.

  • Darfur: Approximately one month ago, Steven Speilberg, who had been scheduled to be the artistic director of the games’ opening and closing ceremonies, removed himself from the role citing China’s lack of action in the Darfur region. China reportedly purchases approximately 2/3 of Sudan’s oil. Other celebrities including George Clooney, Mia Farrow and Richard Gere have also spoken out about China’s mishandling of the Darfur crisis.

  • Human Rights: Among the many ongoing human rights abuses in China, in an effort to clean its streets for the Olympics, China is implementing strict policies with reference to the mentally ill and homeless. It was reported that last month a citizen was beaten to death by Chinese policies after filming a conflict between the police and a street Vendor on his cell phone.

Further reading:

- Annie Noa Kenet, Toronto

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