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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Opinion: Potemkin Lhasa Postscript

June 25, 2008

Agam Gecko
June 23, 2008

The torch of harmonious brotherhood has moved on, and it remains to
be seen how much of the heavy weight of repression will be lifted
from Lhasa's population. With the shrill political statements made by
top officials speaking at the harmonious event on Saturday, I don't
expect much.

Communist Party officials are constantly fending off criticism of
their policies by falling back on the "don't politicize the Olympics"
line. Yet Zhang Qingli, Communist Party Chief in Tibet, foamed at the
closing ceremony about "totally smashing the Dalai Clique." Why
didn't he rail against "politicization of the Olympics" instead?

The CCP itself has politicized the Olympics ever since they were
awarded the games. The event is less about international
sportsmanship than it is about showing off China's "greatness." And
since the Party's "people's war" was launched in response to Tibetans
expressing their aspirations (in at least 95% of the cases,
peacefully), national and regional Party leaders have blamed anything
and everything that happens inside Tibet on the Dalai Lama, their
words dutifully carried worldwide by their various mouthpiece media

But Chinese leaders aren't really speaking to the international
community when they make these accusations. They aren't even really
speaking to the one they accuse. They likely understand that such
words will carry little weight on the outside. They're speaking to
the Tibetans within their borders, ensuring that they understand
crystal clearly -- everything you do will be blamed on him, and the
blame will be thrown in the strongest, most undiplomatic language.
Any conducive atmosphere for dialogue will be kept firmly at bay.
Then we'll blame him for the bad atmosphere too.

Canada's Geoffrey York was one of the very few newspaper journalists
to have been invited for the tightly scripted and controlled media
tour of Lhasa last weekend. He writes that not a single newspaper
from the US or Britain received invitations, which were heavily
skewed toward video crews (it's harder to sneak around the late-night
streets of Lhasa discretely with a video crew in tow). Out of 29
organisations invited, the US had one (NBC television) and the UK had
one (BBC television). About half the number came from Hong Kong,
Macau and Taiwan.

The skittish authorities wanted mainly video pictures to go out to
the world; of triumphant torch-runners and happy, dancing Tibetan
costumes. Since the foreigners weren't allowed to cover the run, that
left the dancing costumes.

  "A small group of foreign journalists, invited to attend the relay,
were not permitted to see any of the nine-kilometre run except the
beginning and end. They had to pass through a barbed-wire checkpoint
and other security checks before they were permitted to the opening ceremony.

  At the end of the relay, the Olympic flame was greeted by a
carefully choreographed display of ethnic dancing and rhythmic
flag-waving from thousands of school children and other hand-picked

York is the only one I've seen so far to have offered a glimpse of
the "rituals" of a Communist China official press tour. As he says,
it's not the ideal way to gather news.

The journalist's day is filled with "weirdly irrelevant" events which
read as a standard package tourist's full-day city tour -- except
that it runs from 7:30 am until 10:30 pm (with a 6:15 wake-up call!),
complete with a loud tour-leader with a megaphone constantly barking
at the group to move faster and, "Get on the bus!" When can one find
time to do one's job?

  "We were lodged in a government hotel, far from the historic centre
of Lhasa, to make it even harder for us to have any independent
contact with monks or other malcontents.

  "At the allocated time for dinner on Friday, I managed to slip away
from the hotel and hail a taxi to the old town, where I was able to
see the massive security presence, including thousands of
paramilitary police in camouflage uniforms, in advance of the Olympic
torch relay the next day. There were paramilitary troops and regular
police on every corner."

A few of York's fellow reporters made a similar break for it,
skipping dinner in order to attempt some reporting. The next day of
course, all the dinner-delinquents were reprimanded by government
minders for their foolhardy risk, for Lhasa is seriously dangerous.
With paramilitary on every streetcorner? They mumble about
"intelligence reports" on imminent attacks.

The official minders were a constant source of disinformation. When
asked why all the shops near the Olympic torch route were shuttered
on Saturday, one minder claimed that Lhasa's shops are always closed
on Saturdays.

How precious! They don't even make the effort to to issue believable
lies. Lhasa is normally closed on Saturday! Telling a whopper like
that for the Motherland, the minder might just as well be slapping
his own face. For the Motherland.

The authorities went to great lengths in making sure no journalists
could talk with ordinary Tibetans, especially unhappy ones. Many of
the news reports noticed the complete lack of monks in public. The
very fact of this major event taking place in Lhasa with not a single
Buddhist monk to be seen, speaks volumes.

The monks, who led the March protests, were kept far out of sight
during the press tour. One journalist found a monk in a back corner
of the Sera monastery. He said nothing, but burst quietly into tears.

This simple scene should be pondered for a moment.

Geoffrey York was good enough to be invited, but not quite good
enough for Chinese people to read. After he filed his pre-show
dispatch on Friday, he checked the Globe and Mail's website. The
first few sentences appeared, and the website crashed. China's
censors had seen it first.
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