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The Olympic Lever


(own report) – Berlin is using the upheaval in the west­ern region of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Chi­na to pur­sue its cam­paign of attri­tion against Bei­jing. Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel is demand­ing that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment enter a “dia­log” with the Dalai Lama, the most famous leader of the Tibetan seces­sion­ists. Roland Koch, prime min­is­ter of the Ger­man fed­er­al state of Hesse, would like to have inter­na­tion­al observers sent to Lhasa and does not exclude a boy­cott of the com­ing Olympic games. Since last year Ger­man politi­cians have been using the Olympic games as a means of apply­ing pres­sure to force a change in Chi­nese pol­i­cy toward Tibet and a desta­bi­liza­tion of Bei­jing’s con­trol over West­ern Chi­na. This plan was the focal point of events orga­nized last year by the Friedrich Nau­mann Foun­da­tion, an affil­i­ate of the Free Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, and a work­ing group in the Ger­man par­lia­ment (Bun­destag). Bei­jing gam­bled and lost with its prepa­ra­tions for the Olympics, alleges a gov­ern­ment advi­sor in Berlin. The ris­ing East Asian rival will be in a worse posi­tion after the games than it had been before.
Ger­man politi­cians’ cur­rent inter­fer­ence in the domes­tic affairs of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Chi­na are based on the recent unrest in the West­ern Chi­nese region of Tibet. For the past few days there have been seri­ous con­flicts between seces­sion­ists and Chi­nese state pow­er. The Seces­sion­ists are attack­ing busi­ness­es and insti­tu­tions, whose own­ers or spon­sors speak the stan­dard Chi­nese lan­guage, and are wag­ing pitched bat­tles with the police. Numer­ous deaths have been report­ed. In this con­flict, Bei­jing’s sov­er­eign­ty over the west of its ter­ri­to­ry is in jeop­ardy — and so is the influ­en­tial poten­tial of this ascend­ing world pow­er.
Berlin is using the con­flict to weak­en Chi­na. Chan­cel­lor Merkel is demand­ing a direct “dia­log” between Bei­jing and the Dalai Lama – a val­oriza­tion of the Tibetan seces­sion­ist leader, hav­ing per­son­al­ly laid the ground­work last fall, with an invi­ta­tion to the god-king for talks in the Ger­man Chan­cellery. That meet­ing was part of the Dalai Lama’s tour of sev­er­al west­ern cap­i­tals, end­ing in Octo­ber in Wash­ing­ton DC, with the leader of the Tibetan exile gov­ern­ment being ele­vat­ed, in the inter­na­tion­al are­na, to the coun­ter­part of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment. The pub­lic rela­tions and sub­ver­sive actions plac­ing into ques­tion Bei­jing’s sov­er­eign­ty over its west­ern ter­ri­to­ries or even declar­ing this sov­er­eign­ty “ille­git­i­mate,” will be con­tin­ued with the Dalai Lama’s next vis­it to Ger­many in May.
“Team Tibet”
Berlin is tac­ti­cal­ly using Chi­nese prepa­ra­tions for the com­ing Olympic Games. A “Tibet-Con­fer­ence” was held in Brus­sels, at the invi­ta­tion of the Friedrich Nau­mann Foun­da­tion, already last May. It was “the most polit­i­cal” con­fer­ence ever held on the Tibet ques­tion, was the opin­ion heard in the Bel­gium cap­i­tal. “This was also due to the oppor­tu­ni­ties that the Olympic Games (...) open to the Tibetans and which were also exam­ined in Brussels.”[1] A few months lat­er, in Novem­ber last year, the “Tibet Dis­cus­sion Group in the Ger­man Bun­destag” orga­nized a meet­ing on “Tibet and the Olympic Games”. Accord­ing to a report on the meet­ing, the dis­cus­sion focused “main­ly on the ques­tion, if the Olympic Games could offer a lever for influ­enc­ing Chi­na’s Tibet policy.”[2] “This is quite pos­si­ble,” declared the Dalai Lama’s Euro­pean rep­re­sen­ta­tive on record. At the meet­ing in the Ger­man cap­i­tal, the par­lia­men­tar­i­ans were intro­duced to the “Team Tibet Project” that “is aim­ing to send its own Tibetan team to the Bei­jing Olympics”. This is an open provo­ca­tion, seek­ing to use an appar­ent apo­lit­i­cal sportive event as a plat­form for dis­cussing Tibetan sov­er­eign­ty.
“Gam­bled and Lost”
The Olympic Games are used as a means of apply­ing pres­sure to force Bei­jing onto its defen­sive from its rise to world pow­er sta­tus. The Olympic Games will par­tic­u­lar­ly expose “griev­ances in Chi­na” to the world’s pub­lic and will harm more than help the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic, A Ger­man gov­ern­ment offi­cial spec­u­lat­ed already last Novem­ber. Bei­jing “gam­bled and lost” with the Olympic Games.[3] Accord­ing to the prime min­is­ter of Hesse Roland Koch, a boy­cott of the Olympic Games could be the West­’s “last resort”, if the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment pre­vails over the Tibetan seces­sion­ists. Even though “last resorts”[4] are not yet in play, the dis­cus­sion of a boy­cott has long since been ini­ti­at­ed.
Seces­sion­ist Poli­cies
Sup­port­ing exten­sive auton­o­my rights for Tibet and even its seces­sion is in line with the tra­di­tion­al Ger­man East Asia pol­i­cy. Already in the 1930s and 1940s, Berlin con­sid­ered this region to be an impor­tant base for expand­ing its influ­ence toward China.[5] Since the mid 1980s, Ger­many has been reviv­ing this strat­e­gy, and orga­ni­za­tions of Ger­man “Volks­grup­pen” (eth­nic group) pol­i­cy are among those active­ly pro­mot­ing a “free Tibet”[6]. The seces­sion­ist pol­i­cy is also aimed at oth­er vast regions of Chi­na (Inner Mon­go­lia, Xin­jiang). Fear­ing its future pow­er, Berlin is seek­ing to weak­en its ascend­ing East Asian rival. Last fall, german-foreign-policy.com pub­lished a series of spe­cial reports on the his­to­ry and pres­ence of Ger­man Tibet pol­i­cy. Because of the cur­rent events we are pro­vid­ing free access to those analy­ses over the next few weeks. Click here to find Strate­gies of Attri­tion (I), (II), (III) and (IV).
[1] s. also Strate­gies of Attri­tion (I)
[2], [3] Pro­tokoll der Ver­anstal­tung “Tibet und Olympia — Die olymp­is­chen Spiele in Chi­na — Chance oder Risiko?” am 14. Novem­ber 2007 in der Vertre­tung des Lan­des Hes­sen beim Bund
[4] Roland Koch: “Boykott ist let­ztes Mit­tel”; Finan­cial Times Deutsch­land 17.03.2008
[5] s. also Strate­gies of Attri­tion (II)
[6] s. also Strate­gies of Attri­tion (III)


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