The Olympic torch relay received what you might call a mixed reaction in London yesterday, and the Independent’s Johann Hari places the burden of sorting things out not on the globe’s politicians, but rather “ordinary citizens, who happen to be extraordinarily brilliant athletes. They are untainted by the fetid calculations of geopolitics and corporate corruption.” We’ll see what Phil Knight has to say about that.
So far, the discussion of a sporting boycott has stalled, because people assume there are only two options. Either we go along passively and smile into the Communist propaganda-camera, or we stay away until the distant day when China is a multiparty democracy with a First Amendment protecting free speech.There is another way. Our athletes can offer the Chinese government a deal. We will happily take part “ provided you meet three simple, practical conditions. Follow this checklist, and your international coming-out party will go swimmingly.
First: release China’s 10 greatest human rights activists. Top of the list is the Chinese hero Hu Jia. He is a 34-year-old father rotting in jail because he campaigned for the rights of Aids victims, and against the environmental destruction spreading across the country. We’re going to need Chinese allies like him in the years to come, as the Great Leap Backwards of global warming intensifies.
Second: invite the Dalai Lama to Beijing, and talk to him. Just talk. When I met the Dalai Lama a few years ago, he said he would do it. This is in China’s interests too: the younger generation of Tibetans coming up behind him are less prepared to offer up the other cheek for a kicking. Israel has learned the hard way that if you react to largely peaceful protests against occupation “ like the first Intifada of the 1980s “ with beatings and bullets, you face rockets and suicide-bombers further down the line. China still has a chance to stop that shift “ just.
Third: allow a real UN peacekeeping force into Darfur. Since 2003, the Chinese government has been covering at the UN for the genocidal Sudanese government, in return for full access to the country’s oil. They will only vote for a peacekeeping force if the Sudanese government “ the murderers “ retains the right to veto the arrival of any troops. As the limping, bloodied people of Darfur told me last summer as they filed across the border, this Chinese clause makes peace impossible.
And finally, allow us to set up a website that breaks through the Great Firewall of China, explaining why we have laid down these conditions.
If the athletes of the free(ish) world unite behind these demands, there is a significant chance the Chinese government will meet them. The embarrassment of their multi-billion-dollar phallus flopping before the world may well trump the embarrassment of conceding on these three issues.