Use this opportunity

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

March 27, 2008 Ed Cartoon

With the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games approaching and tensions in Tibet intensifying, many countries are contemplating a boycott of the Opening Ceremonies or the Games altogether.

Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, is the centre of monk-led anti-government protests that have spiraled into violent clashes between police and protestors. Chinese officials claim 22 people died in Lhasa, but Tibetan-right groups say the figure is closer to 140.

This represents the broadest dissent against Chinese rule in almost two decades and the Chinese government accuses Tibet’s exiled leader the Dalai Lama and his supporters of organizing the opposition.

The Chinese crackdown on Tibetan protests has spurred debate in the West on whether a boycott is the right course of action.

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media freedom group, has called for a boycott of the Opening Ceremonies by heads of state, government and royalty.

Prince Charles said he will skip the Games, but US President George W. Bush stills plans to attend. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is considering a boycott of the opening ceremony.

An all-out boycott of the Games appears constructive at first glance, but such actions only punish the athletes who have trained and worked toward the Olympics for the past four years.

The onus should not be on the athletes to give up the Games, but rather on the heads of state to speak out against China.

While China’s human rights record in Tibet is reprehensible, the efficacy of an Olympic boycott as a diplomatic tool is questionable. China has already been granted the Olympic Games and thus an air of legitimacy.

It should be noted China remains an important trading partner for North America and Europe and it does not take kindly to other nations interfering in what it sees as internal affairs and, as such, a boycott of the Games due to Tibet could sour an important relationship.

Furthermore, a symbolic action like a boycott without concrete action is an empty gesture.

Rather than boycott the games entirely, countries should focus on the unique opportunity the Bejing Games presents to open dialogue with China.

For one, foreign journalists will be granted unprecedented access to China to cover the Olympics.

Second, heads of state will have access to the Chinese government in order to voice their concerns about Tibet.

Moreover, a better strategy is for all heads of state to agree to boycott the Opening Ceremonies to send a message to China; if several heads of state of the G10 countries did not attend, international media would surely report on it and force China to answer on the Tibet issue.

With the spotlight on China, we hope journalists and world leaders will seize the opportunity to use the powerful symbol of the Games to spur change.

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