Germany’s logic on Tibet
“A boycott of the Olympic Games, as some have demanded ... would only penalize the athletes and those who have been training for years,” a German government spokesman said yesterday in response to pressure on Berlin and other governments to pull out of the August Olympic Games in Beijing following its violent crackdown on Tibetan demonstrators. About 100 people are believed to have died since the clashes began.
The problem with that argument is that if we were to follow the logic of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, we could expect it to say with regards to the suspected military nuclear program in Iran, for example, that Germany should continue to sell dual-use equipment to Tehran because a ban, or sanctions, would be unfair to German companies that have worked hard for years to develop their industries.
The spokesman continues: “For human rights, for the people of Tibet and for the Tibetans in other Chinese provinces — a boycott would change nothing about their situation,” a view that almost simultaneously was shared by Patrick Hickey, the head of the European National Olympic Committees.
But this is wrong. As China strives to portray its “rise” as a “peaceful” one, it is at a point in its history where external pressure may be at its most effective. Consequently, to claim that a boycott of the Games — or the threat of doing so — would only hurt the athletes and fail to sway the authorities in Beijing is misguided at best. In the past decade or so, Beijing has backed down on a number of issues (natural resources in the South China Sea, to give but one example) largely as a result of its desire to maintain its image of a responsible power. While it is true that Beijing considers the Tibet issue a “domestic” problem, which means that international pressure is unlikely to be as effective in forcing China to change its policies than on external matters, the international community nevertheless cannot stand by and do nothing. And mere words of condemnation won’t suffice.
While it is true that the athletes have been preparing for years and that a boycott would obviate all that hard work, it remains that sports should not have precedence over basic human rights, including the lives of innocent people. But by publicly announcing its opposition to a boycott, Berlin (and Hickey) was telling Beijing that it has a free hand in how it deals with its people and that it will not suffer any consequences to its actions. This kind of language can only invite further abuse, perhaps even escalation, for which Tibetans (and by rebound Uyghurs and other minorities) will suffer.
As a purported leader of the European continent, Germany gets a failing grade on this one. Of course, what Berlin really has in mind isn’t the poor Olympic athletes it ostensibly wants to protect, or that so-called “Olympic spirit,” but rather, as always, the lucrative business deals that accompany smooth relations with Beijing.