The first two paragraphs of the Olympic Charter:
1. Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.
2. The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.
These paragraphs are a slap in the face of the Tibetan people who demonstrate for autonomy, for their country and religion. When the International Olympic Commitee (IOC) gave the Olympics to Beijing, the world was well aware that China doesn’t comply with all the articles of the human rights charter. But there was hope that the games will work as a catalyst for social and political progress, that they will enhance the freedom of the Chinese and moreover Tibetan people.
Now, it is 2008, the year of the Olympics – and the massive and brutal military crackdown on the Tibetan protesters shows that China hasn’t made any progress so far – that seems to be clear. The easiest thing right now is to call for a boycott, to demand decisive actions by the IOC and the leaders of the western world.
But it is not that easy.
On one side there is the just Tibetan call for more autonomy and religious freedom, on the other hand is a China that took a huge step forward since the days of the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s tyranny. The (western) world needs to find a way to support the Tibetan cause without making the Chinese lose their face. The notion of losing your face is one of the most powerful parts of the Chinese culture but it still does not get as much attention as it should get. The west tries to explain China with terms of its own culture, it does not see that human rights for example, as we know them, are deeply rooted in the Enlightenment. For a Chinese man in the street a human right is not the right to express himself but the right to support the community.
But the egocentric world view is dangerous. There is the possibility that China falls back into an anti-western isolationism. And that would mean that the worlds most populous country and soon enough the worlds biggest economy is out of range for most if not all western influences.
And: A boycott would backfire. Instead of supporting the Tibetans and punishing the Chinese, one would punish the Tibetans and just snub the Chinese. If there were no Olympic Games in China the Tibetans would have no stage for their dramatical protests. The Games cast a spotlight on China as a whole. Thousands of western tourists visit the country this year, the newspapers are full with articles about it and in the TV you find lots of documentations about ‚the rise of the red dragon‘. After a final decision for a boycott the western world would have no lever left to influence China towards a policy of more minority-autonomy.
A full boycott of the Olympics does more harm then good. Western statesmen should rather boycott the opening ceremony in Beijing, should support (even with financial aid) independent news coverage from all provinces of China and should not hesitate to rise the issue of Tibet in the security council of the U.N. A more passive, but decisive position seems appropriate.
In this way the Chinese do not lose their face and the west does not lose the Chinese.