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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China scales down its Olympic ambitions

July 20, 2008

By Simon Scott Plummer, United Kingdom

In an age of global terrorism, it is obviously sensible to guard against
attacks on a prime target such as the Olympic Games. The killing in
Munich of eleven Israeli athletes and coaches by the Palestinian group
Black September in 1972 provides a terrible warning of how the world's
greatest sporting festival can be wrecked. With the XXIX Olympiad
opening in just three weeks, the Chinese government is taking no
chances. But it is less concerned with possible violent foreign attacks
on participants than with peaceful demonstrations by dissident domestic
groups and with the need to purify Beijing's filthy air.

Chief among potential troublemakers, in official eyes, are the spiritual
movement Falun Gong, Tibetan supporters of the Dalai Lama, and Muslims
from the western region of Xinjiang. The first took the authorities
completely by surprise in 1999 when it staged a silent protest of over
10,000 people outside Communist Party headquarters. The movement was
banned, thousands of its followers were arrested, many of them were
tortured and its printed material was publicly burned. Tibet has been a
thorn in the Party's side since the 1950s; the demonstrations there and
in adjoining regions in March were the merely latest in a long series of
uprisings against Han colonisation.

In Xinjiang the government is worried that Muslim separatists could link
up with jihadis in other countries. These fears explain the drastic
restrictions on movement within the capital, from the removal of
"undesirables" to the closure, for a 10-week period starting on Sunday,
of many restaurants and bars. In an attempt to curb pollution in the
booming capital, the authorities are shutting down construction sites
and introducing a system which limits vehicles to circulating on
alternate days, depending on whether their licence plates end with an
odd or even number.

Chinese people are prepared to put up with these restrictions for the
sake of national glory. For them, the Beijing Olympics have assumed a
quasi-religious significance. But the rest of the world can be forgiven
for asking what has happened to the celebratory spirit in which the
Games should be held. China's original goal was to stage the best
Olympiad in history. The rough handling of the Olympic torch in London
and Paris, in protest at oppression in Tibet, has scaled down that
ambition to a "high-quality Olympics with Chinese characteristics". If
the Games simply pass without incident, China will deem them a success.
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