There is something of a dilemma with the West and the Beijing Olympics, but it’s not the one that the article says.
First of all, at this point I see little chance that the Chinese government will do anything in response to the Olympic protests, and personally I think that they would be a bunch of idiots if they made even *symbolic* efforts to respond to the protesters. The problem is that this thing has become so much of a circus that if the Chinese government tries to change any policies in response to the protests, that this will be taken as a sign of weakness, and invite even more protests. Better to stamp down and say *NO* now. No concessions on human rights, on Tibet, on Darfur, on anything before Beijing 2008. If that leads to every country in the world boycotting the Olympics and China getting dragged through the mud in the Western media, then so be it.
Personally, I think that central government policy toward Tibet has been a disaster, that the entire Tibetan regional government should be fired, and there should be quiet talks with the Dalai Lama, but if Beijing does this under pressure and protests, then the result will be more pressure and protests. You do things because they are the right thing to do, you don’t do them under pressure, and there will be plenty of time after the Olympics to address those issues.
Now as for the real dilemma. Let’s be clear on one thing. The primary concern of a politician is not Tibet, not human rights, not anything else except to stay in power. In Western democracies, staying in power means winning elections and keeping public support, and that means not looking bad in the news. Right now the groups in China that tend to be pro-China are people that are making money in China and they are not going to do anything as long as looks like they are going to keep making money. However, if it looks like that they are going to start losing money, people are going to act.
But even this is easy to fix. All the politician has to do is to shake hands and take pictures with the Dalai Lama and make the occasion reference to Tibet in a speech, and that will keep the NGO’s and political opposition happy, and then go back to signing trade deals that make the corporations happy. In other words, loudly talk about human rights and Tibet, but do nothing of any real consequence, in part because they can do nothing of real consequence.
There are two consequences for this:
Darfur…. Darfur was the one issue in which olympic pressure might have actually yielded policy changes in Beijing. Darfur is not an issue of vital strategic importance and having Beijing pressure the Sudanese government costs it basically nothing, and it would be quite worth it for a protest-free Olympics. The problem now is that Darfur has been so overshadowed by Tibet that not many people really give a damn about Darfur any more. Sad. Since people are still dying there, and things are a million times worse in the Sudan than in any part of China.
“We love the Chinese people but hate the Chinese government.” – The NGO movement loves this mantra, but it’s dead now. If you want to show that you can make a distinction between the Chinese government and the Chinese people, it is utterly brain dead to focus your protest movement first on World Trade Organization membership which hits the livelihood of ordinary people and then on the Olympics in which people are supposed to root for the home team. The circus that has surrounded the torch race has discredited a whole set of causes, and it will take a while to repair the damage in the Chinese public.
Part of the reason that it’s just a total mess is that there isn’t a centrally directed conspiracy. There are lots of groups just doing their own thing you end up with complex results that are outside of the groups control, that’s politics.
There is this article that captures the unreality of the situation…
Great, in order to make the New York Times love you, all you have to do is to do exactly what it says to do, and make some pretty fundamental changes in your government, all in less than six months.
It’s not going to happen, and I think it would be foolish for the PRC government to even try.