The World from Berlin 'It Was a Mistake to Let China Host Olympics'

World reaction to the apparently lethal military crackdown on protesting monks in Tibet has been largely at China's expense. But is an Olympic boycott the answer? German commentators on Monday say not yet -- though they have sharp advice for Beijing and the world community.


China's violent crackdown on protesting monks in Tibet last week -- which resulted in up to 80 deaths, according to Tibetan sources, though China denies killing anyone -- has led to calls for an international boycott of the Beijing Olympics this summer.

"They've been brutally repressed for 50 years, 55 years, close to six decades," said actor Richard Gere, a follower of the Dalai Lama and chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet. "I've not been pro-boycott, but I think if this is not handled correctly, yes we should boycott," he told Reuters on Friday. "Everyone should boycott."

US presidential candidate Barack Obama has condemned Beijing, and street protests against Chinese repression reportedly grew violent in India, Australia and China itself. But international leaders have been cautious. "I don't see any use in an Olympic boycott," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the mass-circulation daily Bild. Meanwhile, the Australian Olympic Committee said Monday it was not its job "to take the lead in addressing such issues as human rights or political matters."

German commentators have been just as cautious on Monday morning, piling criticism on Beijing but stopping short of a call for a boycott. Most think the Games will just reveal China's true nature to the world -- though one writer argues, a bit controversially, that Beijing's refusal to negotiate with its peaceful dissidents has promoted terrorism.

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"It's certainly too early to decide on a boycott. But this cuts both ways: Politicians and athletes who now reject the idea out of hand are speaking prematurely. It's arguable whether such threats will push Beijing to a different policy over Tibet. Nevertheless, a refusal by the West to take part in the Games is its most powerful weapon of protest. It would be a severe mistake to use it now -- without knowing whether China will escalate the violence in Tibet, which is still a risk."

"If everything goes smoothly, the Olympic functionaries will be happy to present the Games as a peaceful celebration of international friendship. That's an unabashedly political claim. To now pretend that the only concern in Beijing this August will be who can run faster or jump higher would be unconvincing. The West must therefore decide whether it wants to distinguish a regime that allows its protesters to be shot dead."

The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"A boycott would rob (the world) of a chance to impose pressure on Beijing in the run-up to the Games … The athletes are only the last and weakest link in this long chain of powerful interests. Instead (of a boycott) the pressure could be raised on sponsors and the International Olympic Committee to demand from Beijing an independent investigation into the violence in Tibet. A list of the sponsors is available at en.beijing2008.cn/bocog/sponsors/sponsors/. Which companies, after all, would want to be associated with dead protesters? During the Games, too, gestures like black armbands … would be appropriate ways to commemorate the (Tibetan) injustice. Such measures would help Tibet more than a boycott by participants and spectators who, to criticize China, relinquish what influence they have."

The conservative Die Welt argues:

"Comparing Tibet's liberation movement to others around the world makes it clear why the official Chinese reaction is so depressingly muted. The Palestinians put their cause on the international agenda in the 1960s and '70s by hijacking passenger planes. The one reason they have no state of their own now is the poor quality of their leadership. Protesters in Northern Ireland have also shown that terrorism works. It's hard to imagine (the current) power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland without the attacks of the IRA. The situation of (largely peaceful) Tibetans, however, has grown worse rather than better. The lesson for liberation movements is clear: Rebels will be taken seriously as negotiating partners only if they come to the world's attention through terrorist violence. The Chinese, therefore, are not only doing injustice to the Tibetans; with their refusal to negotiate they are also, in effect, promoting terrorism."

The left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:

"A Chinese proverb says: A stupid man learns from his mistakes; a clever man learns from the mistakes of others. The Chinese government appears to have neither course in mind with respect to Tibet."

"A sober analysis in Beijing must have arrived by now at the conclusion that negotiating with the even-tempered Dalai Lama would be a recommended course of action -- if only to prevent further radicalization among Tibet's activist groups. There was already a thwarted negotiation process, in 1979, under (then-premier) Deng Xiaoping. It ended inconclusively, but China could use this opportunity to learn from its past mistakes."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"It was a mistake to let China host the Olympic Games. The recent deaths following the military crackdown in Tibet allow no other conclusion. Who can enjoy the Olympics while monks are hunted in Lhasa? Who can sit in a Beijing stadium with a clear conscience while jails overflow on the roof of the world?"

"(But) no one truly wants a boycott, as called for by the American actor Richard Gere .... It would not only be unfair to the athletes who have prepared for Beijing and who dream of winning a medal. A boycott would also relinquish whatever good may still come out of these Games."

"It would be a start if the Olympics could open even a few people's eyes in the West to the true situation in China. Because the current dance around the Golden Calf (by the world community) is tasteless..."

"A government that supports itself with violence against its own people is, in the long run, also a danger to its neighbors and to the rest of the world. That much can be drawn from German history, too. The tragic bloodletting in Tibet, only a few months before the Olympic Games, demands a cool reassessment of China. We grow wise by our mistakes."

-- Michael Scott Moore, 12:30pm CET

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