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Beijing Olympics: Moves for De-escalation Continue

The Olympic torch had an eight-hour successful run around Hong Kong on May 2,2008. It was carried by a relay of 120 local personalities.Chinese residents of Hong Kong in large numbers greeted the flame. Chinese concerns that attempts to disrupt the passage of the flame might be made by pro-Tibet, pro-democracy and pro-Falun Gong activists were belied. Small groups of pro-democracy (about 12) and pro-Tibet (about 10) activists did demonstrate at two places, but the local Police were able to prevent them from causing any disruption. The flame was taken to Macau on the evening of May 2,2008.

2. On April 30,2008, the immigration authorities at Hong Kong airport refused entry into the territory to three pro-Tibet activists—-one from the US and two from Canada—who wanted to join the protest. They had to go back to where they came from.

3. It was announced on April 30,2008, that Mia Farrow, the Hollywood actress who started the movement for the boycott of the Olympics more than a year ago to protest against the Chinese assistance to the Government of Sudan and persuaded Hollywood personalities such as Steven Spielberg not to associate themselves with the arrangements being made by the Organisers of the Olympics for spectacular opening and closing ceremonies, would be arriving in Hong Kong on May 1,2008, to address the local foreign correspondents’ club. She was treated with courtesy by the immigration authorities on her arrival and allowed to enter the territory.

4. In pursuance of their announcement of April 25,2008, about their willingness to talk to representatives of the Dalai Lama, the Chinese Embassy in Berne, Switzereland, reportedly contacted Mr.Kelsang Gyaltsen, the special representative of the Dalai Lama who is based in Zurich, and invited him and Mr.Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, the special representative of His Holiness in Washington DC, to visit Beijing for a meeting with the Chinese officials, who had been talking with them in the past.

5. The invitation was welcomed by the Western Governments, but His Holiness was not enthusiastic about a visit at this time since he saw it as a tactical move to reduce pressure on Beijing from the international community without any serious purpose. However, the Western Governments reportedly advised the set-up of His Holiness not to spurn the Chinese invitation, but to reciprocate the Chinese gesture by sending his representatives to Beijing. The Dalai Lama’s set-up in Dharamsala announced on May 2,2008 that Mr.Gyari and Mr.Kelsang Gyaltsen would reach Beijing on May 3 in response to the Chinese invitation.

6. While doing so, the office of the Dalai Lama has sought to play down unwarranted hopes.The Tibetan Prime Minister-in-exile, Mr. Samdhong Rinpoche, said: “”We don’t have much high expectations. Nevertheless, we are happy consultations are taking place.It is not a formal round of talks.It is only an informal consultation.”

7. The Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), which has been repeatedly accused by the Government-controlled Chinese media of being a terrorist organisation, has also made some moves towards de-escalation. The Chinese were particularly outraged by an interview reportedly given by Mr. Tsewang Rigizin, the President of the TYC, who is reportedly an US citizen, to an Italian newspaper in which he allegedly threatened that the TYC might resort to suicide attacks. This has been strongly denied by him. He has said in a statement from Dharamsala: ” The TYC strongly rejects these allegations as baseless and fallacious.We have never planned any suicide attacks. I have always maintained that violence is not an option for us.I am not quoted correctly. I never said that we would plan suicide attacks or resort to violence. I have already written to the Italian news reporter about the allegation. I am yet to receive a reply on that. In the last 38 years of TYC’s existence, we have always campaigned for Tibet’s independence based on the historical truth and non-violence and have never resorted to any terrorist activities or suicide attacks to achieve our goal of Tibet’s independence.Since the inception of TYC in 1970, our main goal is to regain Tibet’s independence and restore the dignity of the Tibetan people and we will continue our non-violent struggle until Tibet is independent. ”

8. While the Chinese media and the TYC have kept up their campaign of mutual demonisation of each other, advice for moderation from the Western Governments and business houses and senior officials on the International Olympics Committee seem to be having an effect slowly. There is a growing conviction in the Western Governments that it would be counter-productive to use the Tibetan and other human rights issues to hurt the Chinese national pride over the Olympics being held in Beijing. Millions of Chinese people not only in China, but also in the overseas Chinese community have been looking forward to this occasion with joy and excitement and it would be wrong to make them feel humiliated.

9. It remains to be seen whether the hot-heads in the TYC continue to accept the advice to cool it or try to create more incidents when the flame is taken to Tibet. It is also not clear to what extent the Dalai Lama and the TYC are in a position to calm the anger of the Tibetan youth and monks in the Tibetan-inhabited areas of China. (3-5-08)

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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