I found Rowan Callick’s report in today’s Australian very interesting.
CHINA last night moved to reopen talks with the Dalai Lama in an effort to prevent the Olympic Games from being engulfed in controversy over its stance on Tibet.
The official Xinhua news agency said Beijing would start negotiations with a personal representative of the exiled Tibetan leader “in the coming days”.
It said the first talks in almost a year followed repeated requests “made by the Dalai side for resuming talks”.
But the approach also follows the transformation of the “journey of harmony” – as the international Olympic torch relay is known – into a war of words and frequent violence between Chinese nationalists and supporters of the Dalai Lama.
The Australian leg of the torch relay in Canberra on Thursday was marred by scuffles between Chinese and Tibetan supporters, leading to seven arrests.
Tenzin Takla, a spokesman for the 72-year-old Dalai Lama, last night welcomed the offer as “a step in the right direction”. He said the issue could only be resolved by face-to-face meetings.
Within China, the reaction to international criticism over Tibet has sparked a nationalist surge, heightening anxiety over the impact on the Olympics, which start in Beijing in just 15 weeks.
International leaders, including Kevin Rudd during his trip to China this month, have urged Beijing to return to the negotiating table with the Dalai Lama, who has said that he seeks only autonomy, not independence, for Tibet, and that he does not want to disrupt the Olympics…
Callick goes on to quote Liu Xiaobo:
“But it’s still better to have such a conversation than to have no talking at all.”
Liu Xiaobo is an interesting character, as Wikipedia (linked to his name above) notes, he:
is a human rights activist who has called on the Chinese government to be accountable for its actions. He has been detained, arrested, and sentenced repeatedly for his peaceful political activities, including participating in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 that ended when the People’s Liberation Army violence against peaceful demonstrators at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and other places in June 1989.
In 1996, Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to three years in a forced-labor camp for criticizing the Chinese Communist Party. And earlier this month, he was briefly detained and questioned about articles he wrote for Internet sites outside China.
By speaking out for an open society in China, says Vincent Brossel of Reporters without Borders, Liu Xiaobo continues to risk his personal freedom: “He’s facing a real risk. He has been fighting for freedom of expression for years.”
I met Liu Xiaobo in Sydney when he was visiting in the 1990s, between Tiananmen and the 1996 Labour Camp experience. He is one feisty individual, I can tell you. His call on the significance of the Chinese backdown is true enough, I suspect. It is however good to see the Cultural Revolution rhetoric going on the back burner for the moment. Despite the positive television images the Chinese government, which no doubt facilitated the amazing number of red flags, helped generate in Canberra the other day, it would appear that the Tibet protest message has had some effect on some in Beijing. Whatever else, the government and people in China do want to have a successful Olympics, partly on grounds quite familiar to us in Australia from the 2000 Olympics where many took a very dim view indeed of attempts to link the Olympics to publicising Aboriginal issues. In no way am I commending China’s human rights record, especially but not only in Tibet, I hasten to add. If ever anyone had first hand knowledge of that it is Liu Xiaobo.
At the same time, hysteria, which has surfaced in some quarters, over the sight in Canberra of all those assertive Chinese, not in the least conforming to the passive Oriental stereotype, is I think misplaced. Sure there were lots of them, even including one of my coachees. For most of them the motive for being there, I suspect, had more to do with excitement about the forthcoming games and pride, which goes beyond party lines, in China’s hosting it than it did with hating Tibetans. My coachee, to take one example, was born after Tiananmen and really knows bugger all about Tibet. What he does know, from his perspective, is that China today is an exciting go-ahead place where very many quite literally have never had it so good, despite the inequalities and human rights abuses and the lack of democracy. He can hold that idea while also being very happy, in his case, as an Australian citizen — well soon to be, as he is not yet of voting age. I don’t find that at all puzzling. The Chinese Government used the Canberra demonstration for their own purposes, but the young people who went were by no means a mob of faceless brain-washed automatons.
22 January 2009
This turned out to be total Olympics window-dressing, unfortunately.