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China's Olympics and the '3 evils'
March 14, 2008
China's efforts to encash the forthcoming Olympics [Images] games at Beijing [Images] appear to have been facing severe hurdles even before the Games begin on August 8. However, major infrastructural efforts helped showcase several cities and venues.
It is a foregone conclusion that successful conclusion of Beijing Olympics would give China the much needed fillip to not only rise further in the global order but also the "political legitimacy" in the major capitals across the world. The Tokyo Olympics four decades ago just did that to Japan [Images]. However, for a ruling Communist Party (albeit in transition to 'social democratic' set-up), with its Tiananmen stains of 1989, the journey towards great power status is arduous, if not impossible to realise.
Foremost in such challenges are those precisely China considers as its core sovereignty related issues. Mention should be made of the on-going imbroglio involving China's positions on Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Taiwan. All issues related to these have been boiling and spilling over with each country forced to take a pro-Beijing position. At least, Beijing clearly drew 'red lines' that are not to be crossed over by other countries, but relatively content with 'amber lines', and happy with its 'green lines'.
In the on-going crack-down by Indian police on Tibetan activists protesting the holding of Olympics by China, the above issues and lines are clearly visible -- testing waters between New Delhi and Beijing for yet another time. The 'green lines' China would definitely prefer is handing over by Indian forces of over 200,000 Tibetan refugees living in different parts of India. This is expressed in the crucial word "inalienable" as a part of the joint declaration with other countries. While some Indian prime ministers were tempted to include such provision in their joint declarations, no such word was forthcoming so far due to the pressures from the civil society in India.
The 'red lines' China detest is any explicit support to the Tibetan movement by any government. Indeed, to forestall such an eventuality Beijing insisted on including the provision of "opposing 3 evils" [separatism, extremism and 'splittism'] in its joint declarations with other countries. The code words 'separatism' stands for Taiwanese independence (which will be tested on March 22 Presidential elections and referendum process); extremism for the Uighur movement in Xinjiang, while 'splittism' is reserved for the Dalai Lama [Images] and Tibetans.
Last few years saw the inclusion of '3 evils' as a part of the joint India-China declarations. During President Hu Jintao's visit in November 2006 this was mentioned. With this provision, Beijing bound Indian feet with its version of containment of the movement in Tibet. However, much before these, India in 1954 (by Nehru), 1988 (by Rajiv Gandhi) and in 2003 (by Vajpayee) have moved closer to the Chinese position on the Tibetan issue.
However, currently, the Indian position on Tibetan issue could be placed at the 'amber lines' level -- neither crossing the red lines nor yet accepting completely Beijing's green lines. This is one reason why the police crackdown -- despite Chinese pressure -- is muted, if firm at Kangra and New Delhi. Similar was the response of the Greek and Czech governments as well as local authorities at San Francisco and New York when such protests were undertaken by Tibetans in the last one week. Mongolians learned the hard way a few years ago when their borders were blockaded and debilitated by Beijing after Ulan Bator gave a visa to the Dalai Lama.
For the Tibetans, protest against holding of Beijing Olympics offers an opportunity to highlight their cause. Beijing decries support to such protests as "politicisation of sports events". However, Tibetans were not alone. Noted Hollywood director Steven Spielberg [Images] walked away from Beijing ceremonies citing the Chinese record in contributing to the Darfur civil war in Sudan. Others have criticised Chinese record in support of Robert Mugabe government in Zimbabwe or its human rights record.
Part of the escalation on the Tibetan issue rests with Beijing itself which ratcheted- up stakes in the region with a railway line operationalised in mid 2006, and other infrastructural projects put in line to fully integrate Tibet into its modernisation drive. Moreover, in early May this year the Olympics torch will be taken to the Chinese side of the Mount Everest [Images], a sacred spot for Tibetans. This would have signified not only generating patriotism among Chinese but also in complete domination of Tibet by China. In the backdrop lack of any progress in the five talks so far between Beijing and the Dalai Lama's representatives, the younger Tibetan elements have been restive of late who are fuelling protests against Beijing Olympics.
While showcasing Tibetan infrastructure has silenced prospective Western, Japanese and Singapore investors, the civil society forces have indicated restiveness -- and this poses major concerns for Beijing today as it touches on the raw nerve of legitimacy.
Srikanth Kondapalli is chairman of Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.