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China's angry, uncertain reaction

April 10, 2008

A rattled government in Beijing is censoring coverage of the protests,
yet at the same time lashing out at them

The Globe and Mail
April 8, 2008

BEIJING — With foreign protests spiralling out of control, Beijing is
wavering between old-style censorship and florid displays of anger as it
struggles for a response to the biggest crisis to hit its Olympic
showcase so far.

Two days of chaos along the Olympic torch route in Paris and London have
clearly rattled the Chinese authorities, who are painfully aware that
the crisis will continue tomorrow when the Olympic flame arrives in San
Francisco for another encounter with a determined band of pro-Tibetan

The tensions were ratcheted up another notch yesterday as Democratic
presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged U.S. President George W.
Bush to boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics because of
human-rights abuses in Tibet and Sudan. It was another twist in the
public-relations nightmare that now surrounds China's cherished moment
in the sun.

China is still officially touting the 137,000-kilometre torch relay as a
"Journey of Harmony." But the slogan is rapidly turning to farce as
thousands of police and security officers battle on the streets with
activists who are trying to disrupt the relay.

Last night, Beijing showed its confusion with a muddled reaction to the
latest clashes. Almost all of the chaotic day of protests in Paris was
censored from Chinese television. The state broadcasters, making only
brief mentions of the incidents, failed to show any pictures of them.

Instead they showed pristine images of the Eiffel Tower and other Paris
tourist sites, along with brief scenes of the opening moments of the
relay, before the demonstrations began. Sticking to the official script,
the state media insisted that the torch was getting a "warm welcome" in

Foreign broadcasters, including CNN and BBC, were sporadically censored
in Beijing yesterday. Television screens repeatedly went blank when the
broadcasters showed scenes of the protests.

But the censorship was combined with a loud outburst of angry
condemnations of the protesters. Last night, Beijing charged that the
demonstrations were "despicable activities" by people who were
"tarnishing the lofty Olympic spirit" and "attempting to sabotage" the
torch relay.

Since the eruption of violent Tibetan protests in China last month, the
Chinese authorities have launched a bitter campaign against Western
journalists, calling them "biased" and "unfair" in their coverage of the
Tibet issue. Many correspondents in Beijing have received death threats
as a result. But if the torch relay was a chance for Beijing to show
what it meant by "fair" coverage, it seems to have ignored the
opportunity. The Chinese media coverage of the Olympic flame has
descended into heavy-handed propaganda, without even a pretense of

Last night, China's state media repeatedly described the protesters in
Paris as "Tibetan separatists," even though many of the demonstrators
have made clear that they want only a limited form of autonomy for
Tibet, rather than full independence.

The state news agency, Xinhua, said the "disruptions" by the protesters
had "aroused indignation from spectators and sports officials" at the
torch relay in Paris. It said the spectators were "very angry" and
"greatly annoyed" by the protests. It quoted a Chinese student and
another unidentified student "who gave his first name as Mark" who both
criticized them.

In a separate report, Xinhua quoted a series of anonymous "netizens" who
denounced the "evil nature of Tibetan separatists" at the torch relay.
The "unpleasant incident" would "never stop the relay," it said.

The same message was repeated on Chinese television last night. "It's
the responsibility of the whole world and all human beings to maintain
order and keep the torch relay pure," said an announcer on state television.

The protesters were trying to "shame" China, but they will only
humiliate themselves, the television announcer said.

"The smooth progress of the torch relay cannot be stopped and will
definitely be a big success," said Wang Hui, communications director at
Beijing's Olympic organizing committee. "These Tibetan separatists who
dare to challenge the Olympic spirit will be condemned by the people of
the world and are doomed to failure."

While admitting that protests had forced organizers to put the Olympic
flame onto an accompanying bus in Paris four times yesterday, Beijing
denied that the flame was extinguished. Instead it said the "modes" of
the relay were merely "temporarily changed to safeguard the security and
dignity of the Olympic torch."
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