By Maura Moynihan
On June 21st, the Blood Torch appeared in Lhasa. It was a predictably grim propaganda exercise, with dancing maidens, grinning nomads and unctuous PRC officials waving for the cameras. The select international reporters on hand witnessed a perverse celebration China's Tibet, a stubborn relic of the Cultural Revolution where party bosses flaunt their military muscle as they spit hateful denunciations of the Dalai Lama. Flanked by banners heralding "Great ethnic unity" and "Bless the motherland, joyfully greet the Olympics", Tibet's Communist Chief Zhang Qingli stood before pre-selected civilians and tens of thousands of PLA shock troops, proclaiming "Tibet's sky will never change and the red flag with five stars will forever flutter high above it" and "We will certainly be able to totally smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai Lama clique."
The foreign correspondents were impressed, with the psychotic language, the massive militarization and the total absence of authentic Tibetan culture or street life. Video dispatches from the torch ceremony depict a chilling display of mobilization, fleets of armored vehicles rumbling past shuttered shops and deserted streets, with sardonic commentary about the extreme security measures for reporters, to "ensure the safety of guests". As Beijing labors to suppress and control all information about the harsh reality of life in occupied Tibet, it is useful to have a few reporters witness the blunt force of China's police state, as the Summer Olympics draw near.
The Games were to be the baptism of China's global ascendancy, as host to the supreme idyll of the free world. But the torrent of outrage that drowned the Blood Torch tossed an arrow into the heart of the Politboro - the Tibet crisis -inducing a xenophobic frenzy. China is bracing for a fight with the twin turbines of the global sports economy; tourism and media. For good reason; it was travelers bearing cameras who exposed China's cruel treatment of the Tibetan people when Tibet was pried open in the 1980's. Beijing has clamped down on visas, travel permits and contracts.
Journalists who tried to cover Tibet received death threats and hate mail, prompting editors to warn field staff to steer clear of Lhasa. On June 1st, 08, the Beijing Olympic Committee abruptly revoked its 2007 agreements to allow "complete freedom" to all media, infuriating the 12 international television networks who paid millions to cover the Olympic Games. No live coverage from Tiananmen Square, no man-in-the-street interviews without a security official hovering near. An English phrasebook for the domestic security personnel contains a chapter entitled "How to Stop Illegal News Coverage" with sample dialogue of a policeman confiscating a camera and escorting a reporter to the police station for questioning. It does not post guidelines, at least, not in English, for silencing a local reporter or source with a beating or jail sentence.
The strategic planning team at Hill & Knowlton, the New York PR firm assigned to clean up Beijing's Olympic image, got an easy pass when the earthquake struck Sichuan on May 12th,.; The IOC and their corporate sponsors lauded China's the swift mobilization into the quake zone, fostering a virtual blackout of all reporting and discussion of Tibet. One hears of classified memos floating around Hill & Knowlton, offering suggestions on how to spin the next Tibet blow-up, with talking points about sports and world peace. The corporate sponsor spin is straightforward, if crass; Herbert Hainer of Adidas, an Olympic sponsor, said in a recent press conference; "The Chinese market is a very big one for us and it will shortly be the second-biggest market in the world for us, after the US market. But once again, this is not the reason why we didn't speak up on the Tibet conflict."
The strenuous passage of the Blood Torch through Tibet offered a glimpse of the extreme militarism that China is preparing for the Olympic Games. Should the Tibet crisis explodes in August, tens of thousands of reporters and tourists and athletes will bear witness. But it's too late for China to cancel the match, the world has already paid for a front row seat.
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