Thursday, April 10, 2008

The "Dubious Politics" Behind the Olympic Torch Debacle

It’s certainly been interesting to watch events around the Olympic Torch relay unfold – or rather unravel.

I think the most satisfying aspect of this whole debacle is the knowledge that the Chinese authorities, so use to stage managing and repressively controlling events of national significance, have lost control of this particular one. Big time! Indeed, the whole enterprise, as one BBC reporter noted this evening, is in “free fall.”

Yet, as always, there’s so much more to the story than presented by the corporate media. And so I’d like to take this opportunity to share excerpts from a commentary by David Walsh of the World Socialist Web Site, one that explores the “dubious politics behind the Beijing Olympics protests.”


Significant protests in London, Paris and now San Francisco have threatened to disrupt the Olympic torch relay as it makes its way through cities on five continents preliminary to the summer games in Beijing in August.

At the center of the protests is the Chinese regime’s repression in Tibet and its overall human rights record. In addition to pro-Tibetan activists, a coalition of groups, including opponents of China’s policies in Darfur and Burma, as well as persecuted religious sect Falun Gong supporters and animal rights movements, have organized the events.

. . . The anti-Chinese protests, which, while vociferous, have not mobilized massive numbers of participants, have received wide coverage in the US media. It should simply be noted that vast worldwide demonstrations against American intervention in Iraq in February 2003, which numbered in the millions, did not garner one-tenth the airtime or column space.

. . . The American ruling elite is torn about the present campaign. Powerful elements certainly appreciate the economic and financial significance of China to world capitalism and are reluctant to throw the full support of the state behind this. The Bush administration has not joined the current effort wholeheartedly, at least not in public. The Democrats in Congress, led by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, are making more noise about the issue. Pelosi has called on George W. Bush to consider avoiding the opening ceremony in Beijing; New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, desperate to make waves in an effort to keep her presidential hopes alive, has appealed to Bush not to attend the opening. The Democrats are attempting to stir up both the pots of anticommunism and anti-Chinese chauvinism.

For the moment, Bush has indicated his intention to be at the ceremony. Gordon Brown, British prime minister, says he will not be at the opening, but not as a protest; he plans to attend the closing ceremony. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will stay away from the opening and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy has threatened to do the same.

The campaign against the Beijing summer games, predictably, has become a political football, used for generally reactionary purposes. The long-standing links between Tibetan nationalist forces and the Central Intelligence Agency, which financed, armed and helped instigate the 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, are common knowledge. In the more recent period, CIA conduits like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), set up by the Reagan administration in 1984, have provided funds to Tibetan separatist movements.

Having said that, there is no reason whatsoever to express solidarity with Chinese repression in Tibet. The Beijing regime has nothing to do with socialism or communism. It has made the country available to predatory foreign and domestic corporate interests, who now exploit Chinese workers by the tens of millions at miserable wages. This systematic rape by the ‘free market’ has made China home to one of the fastest-growing collections of billionaires in the world. The Beijing government is deservedly hated by the population and responds to every serious protest with repression and violence.

The Chinese regime tramples on the democratic and social rights of the Tibetans as it does on the rights of the population as a whole.

The answer to that is not Tibetan nationalism; separation, advocated by the Tibetan Youth Congress and other groups, would simply turn the newly ‘independent’ nation into an impotent pawn of this or that imperialist power and solve none of the democratic or social questions. That the Dalai Lama, a symbol of feudal reaction and superstition, remains the spiritual leader of the nationalist movement speaks volumes about its social and class character.

No doubt genuine revulsion against Beijing’s policies motivates some of the demonstrators in San Francisco and elsewhere. However, an amorphous clamor about ‘human rights’ and ‘atrocities’ sweeps up a great many muddleheads, who never notice that their protests coincide with the general line of Great Power policy. In the absence of an internationalist and socialist perspective, such a campaign can feed into maneuverings and interests that have nothing in common with human rights in Tibet.

We saw this play itself out in a tragic fashion in the Balkans in the 1990s, where a considerable section of the ‘left’ aligned itself with the anti-Serbian campaign. This became an instrument for the carve-up of the Balkans in the interests of US and German imperialism.

Large historical questions are involved in the Tibet crisis, which may have quite unexpected and explosive consequences. The same kind of operation, conducted by the US government in particular, has taken place in relation to Taiwan over the decades. However legitimate the democratic strivings, the politics and perspective of the Taiwan independence movement are quite reactionary and play into the hands of reactionary elements. In the long-term, such playing with fire by the Great Powers leads to war and mass suffering. The only progressive response is a socialist policy, and the unification of the working population against imperialism and all its agencies.

. . . The hypocrisy of US politicians over the Beijing Olympics is monumental. In her statement, Hillary Clinton declared, “I encourage the Chinese to take advantage of this moment as an opportunity to live up to universal human aspirations of respect for human rights and unity, ideals that the Olympic games have come to represent.”

Pelosi added her two cents: “Freedom-loving people around the world are vigorously protesting because of the crackdown in Tibet and Beijing’s support for the regime in Sudan and the military junta in Burma. The people are making a significant statement that the Olympic ideals of peace and harmony should apply to all people, including those in Tibet and Darfur.”

For all their brutality and ruthlessness, the Chinese actions in Tibet don’t begin to approach the horrors committed by the US government and military in Iraq. More than one million Iraqis dead, millions more driven into exile, a country destroyed, four thousand US military personnel killed and tens of thousands physically or mentally maimed—at an estimated eventual cost of several trillion dollars.

American politicians, up to their elbows in blood, are in no position to lecture anyone about the “universal human aspirations of respect for human rights and unity” and “the Olympic ideals of peace and harmony.”

Democrats like Clinton and Pelosi have been complicit in the Iraqi sociocide from the beginning, and as the prostration of their party’s representatives before Gen. David Petraeus this week demonstrated, they continue to accept as legitimate the US drive for world domination, euphemistically known as the ‘global war on terror.’

To read David Walsh’s commentary in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Capitalism on Trial
R.I.P. Neoclassical Economics
In Search of a “Global Ethic”
Let’s Also Honor the “Expendables”
A Lose/Lose Situation
John le Carré’s Dark Suspicions
John Pilger on Resisting Empire

Image 1: A torch bearer, identified as Li Lin, runs along the waterfront at the start of the Olympic Torch relay in San Francisco, California, April 9, 2008. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

Image 2: A pro-Tibet demonstrator is arrested during the Olympic Torch relay in San Francisco, California April 9, 2008. (Erin Siegal/Reuters)

Image 3: Pro-Tibetan protesters take part in a rally at the Chinese Consulate in Toronto on Wednesday, April 9, 2008, in reaction to the Olympic torch parade in San Francisco. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatric)

Image 4: A policeman catches a protestor who tried to stop the Beijing Olympics torch relay on April 7 in Paris. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Wednesday that China was within its rights to supply a team of escorts for the Olympic torch relay, amid charges they had behaved like “thugs.” (AFP/Pool/File/Patrick Kovarik)

Image 5: Tibetan protesters dressed as members of China’s army pretend to beat on Tibetans during a demonstration against China’s Olympic torch relay at the Ferry Plaza in San Francisco, Wednesday, April 9, 2008. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Image 6: Police remove protesters trying to disrupt the relay run with the Olympic torch in Paris, April 7, 2008. (Reuters/Jacky Naegelen/Files)

Image 7: Pro-Tibet demonstrator Lala Norgyal protests shortly before the Olympic torch passed through San Francisco on Wednesday, April 9, 2008. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Image 8: Pro-Tibet demonstrators hang banners on the Golden Gate Bridge as the city of San Francisco prepared to host the Olympic torch relay on Wednesday. A senior Olympic official has raised the prospect for the first time of abandoning the international legs of the Beijing Games torch relay, amid a wave of protests targeting the flame overseas. (AFP/Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)


loc said...

thats so hilarious... a catholic calling the dalai lama feudal!! Have you heard of the pope?

you may be right -- but where do you get your sources -- and how do you know they are reliable -- not based on one hack quoting another hack disguised as "Truth".

I'm sure there is western bias and chinese bias to the story of Tibet. But adding a trite Marxist analysis hardly sheds light on the truth.

Btw: In 1996, the Dalai Lama issued a statement that: “Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability.” Marxism fosters “the equitable utilization of the means of production” and cares about “the fate of the working classes” and “the victims of . . . exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and . . . I think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist"

Also I agree that the US govt's foreign policy are atrocious and should be opposed but is that mutually exclusive with opposition to China's atrocious policies?

Michael J. Bayly said...


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective.

For the record, I have no idea if David Walsh, the author of the commentary I excerpted, is Catholic. I doubt it though.

I, however, as a Catholic, lament the feudal monarchical system of the papacy and would very much like to see it reformed. (See here and here.)

Thanks too for sharing the Dalai Lama's comments on Marxism. I had not heard these before.

And finally, I don't believe Walsh is saying that opposing the U.S.'s "atrocious policies" is "mutually exclusive" to opposing China's.



crystal said...

I agree that in the US, we're just as bad as the Chinese government, not only in Iraq, but in the past and in other places, like Hawaii and New Guinea, etc. But that doesn't change the wrongness of what China is doing.

My sister is a big fan of the Dalai Lama and very interested in Buddhism, we both spent some years with zen meditation, and so I have a certain fondness and respect for him and Buddhiam. How would we Catholics feel if a larger country took over Rome, ousted the Pope, said they would from now on pick his sucessors, shipped in so many of their countrymen that Romans were in the minority, forced nuns and monks to have sex with each other, etc.

We may not all be protesting with unaldulerated and pure motivations against China, but the things we are protesting against really are wrong, I think.