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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China's iron Olympic grip starts to slip

August 18, 2008

Internet critics, made bold by their uncensored criticism of the
Games' opening ceremony, are seeking new targets
Michael Sheridan, Beijing
The Sunday Times (UK)
August 17, 2008

The mystery of the half-filled stands at many events at the 2008
Olympic Games has been solved, according to Chinese internet users,
who say it is the result of a policy to prevent the gathering of
large and possibly uncontrollable crowds.

They claim ticket sales to the public were secretly restricted.
Blocks of tickets went to government departments, Communist party
officials or state-owned companies, which have quietly obeyed orders
not to hand them out. "People are so angry because they slept all
night outside ticket booths and got nothing and now they see this,"
said one blogger, Jian Yu.

Official explanations eroded swiftly because internet insurgents have
rapidly identified cracks in the perfect facade constructed for the Olympics.

In the nine days since Chinese leaders presided over a grandiose -
and, it turns out, partly faked - opening ceremony, one fact after
another has eluded the censors and fuelled public indignation at the
costs and the charade. Protected, they hope, by online anonymity,
some of China's 1.3 billion people are daring to wonder where it will all end.

At some football matches in the northern city of Shenyang, only a
third of the seats were taken. Even some gymnastics finals, usually
one of the biggest attractions on the programme, were not sold out.

Nobody seems to have explained it to the International Olympic
Committee, which is baffled by the empty seats, or to the sponsors,
who are disappointed.

The policy meant that some British supporters have been deprived of
the excitement of seeing the Games. Even parents of competitors, such
as those of Rebecca Adlington, the gold medal-winning swimmer, have
complained about being unable to get seats.

Jeff Hunter, group operations director for Sportsworld, the official
travel and ticket agent for the British Olympic Association, said:
"It is surprising that not all the venues have been as full as they
could have been."

Lower-ranking Chinese officials hastily bused in paid "volunteers" to
populate the stands in Beijing, appreciating the embarrassment caused
by leaving them half-empty, but public relations remain a matter of
indifference to most guardians of public order.

Security has been heavy-handed from the start. As the film director
Zhang Yimou's extravaganza kicked off with a boom, I watched on a
giant screen in a park, one of the few venues where ordinary Chinese
people were allowed to gather.

They cheered as the fireworks exploded, few looking up to find that
there were, in fact, none to be seen because the sequence was
produced by software, not gunpowder.

They cooed at nine-year-old Lin Miaoke, hardly caring that her lyrics
were obviously mimed, and as she sang they went into a patriotic
delirium when goose-stepping soldiers raised the national flag. Yet
even these loyal citizens could not be trusted. We were surrounded by
dozens of police who locked the gates to keep us in and others out.

Chao Chanqing, an exiled journalist widely read on web-sites
accessible in China, has accused Zhang, the director, of playing the
same role as Leni Riefenstahl, who filmed an epic documentary for
Hitler at the Berlin Olympics of 1936.

The director scorns the comparison but he admitted that a Chinese
leader ordered him to make changes to the ceremony. "I had no chance
to reject his opinion," he told the Nanfang Weekend newspaper.
Analysts said he was referring to vice-president Xi Jinping, heir
apparent to the top job.

Government officials swept thousands of migrant workers out of
Beijing -- the very people who built the stadium, at least 10 of them
paying with their lives. Police arrested hundreds of provincial
petitioners who sought justice in the capital and sent at least 58 to
labour camps for "reeducation".

The sick were told that routine surgery was cancelled in every
hospital and officials shut some psychiatric patients inside their wards.

Even as the nation is supposed to be keeping a keen tally of the gold
medal count, dissenters are daring to raise the issue of how much the
Games have cost the people of China.

For all its export might, China is still a poor, largely agrarian
country with perhaps 700m farmers and 150m migrant workers. The size
of its economy is huge but, measured by wealth per head, it ranks
109th in the world, comparable with Swaziland or Morocco.

It faces an acute crisis as its people live longer but fewer are
born; the old lack pensions and healthcare must be paid for. Half the
population does not have clean drinking water and 16 cities are among
the most polluted on earth.

So why, asked the mainland Chinese writers in a Hong Kong magazine
named Kaifeng (Open), did China blow more than £20 billion on the Games?

They calculate that the total costs may exceed £30 billion, more than
the Chinese government will spend this year on education or public
health or relief for the Sichuan earthquake. These are questions that
would make any ruler nervous.

Chinese leaders prided themselves on the splendid reception for
dignitaries and 10,500 athletes. They rejected criticism of their
policies on Darfur, Burma and Zimbabwe, brushing aside foreign
demonstrators complaining about Tibet.

However, they remain worried about political undercurrents among
their people. These can be unexpected. Despite pervasive internet
control, censors could not stop nationalist criticism about the
diplomatic price China has paid for mounting the Games.

Exhibit one for the ultra-patriots was a border treaty signed on July
21 between China and Russia to settle disputes over their Siberian
territories that led to armed clashes during the cold war. Official
accounts of the treaty emphasised the return to China of 1½ islands
in the icy Amur River that divides the two nations.

Online critics were enraged because the foreign ministry appeared to
have recognised the 19th-century conquest of thousands of square
miles of land by Tsarist Russia. "These lands belong to all the
people of China," a blogger called "Tiger" wrote. It was only on the
day the treaty was signed that the attendance of Vladimir Putin at
the opening ceremony of the Games was confirmed.
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