JOHNSON CITY — A Chinese professor at East Tennessee State University says the latest protest aimed at extinguishing the Olympic flame is a race human rights advocates can’t win.
In the past three days, protesters in France and England who challenge the People’s Republic of China’s policies and actions toward its people and the people of Tibet have tried to grab the Olympic torch and have disrupted planned runner routes.
The Associated Press reported that in its only U.S. stop, the Olympic torch arrived Tuesday in San Francisco amid heavy security, a day after its visit to Paris descended into chaos and activists in San Francisco scaled the Golden Gate Bridge to protest China’s human rights record.
Activists opposing China’s human rights policies and a recent crackdown on Tibet have been protesting along the torch’s 85,000-mile route since the start of the flame’s journey from Olympia in Greece to Beijing, host of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
“Sure, I sympathize with those groups about the situation in Tibet. I always argue that China’s approach to the Tibetan issue should be different. But I don’t think that the protests are good,” said Weixing Chen, ETSU chair of the Department of History. “The Olympic Games are probably one of the last things that should be politicized. It goes against its spirit.”
He said the protesters’ behavior may hurt their cause.
“I don’t think the Chinese communities here in the U.S. and elsewhere, and I’m talking about the majority, would support this kind of mood. The wrong message is being sent to prove the point.”
Classified as the highest country on Earth at an elevation of 14,000 feet, Tibet was overtaken by China in 1949 through an invasion and has had millions of its citizens imprisoned or killed because of their beliefs or efforts to thwart censorship and Chinese rule, according to the International Campaign for Tibet in Washington, D.C.
“I read reports, both from the Chinese authorities, and I surf the Chinese Web sites, and then I read Web sites from the West. The stories (of human rights violations) are totally different. It is hard to say who is right, who is wrong, who is correct, who is incorrect,” Chen said.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton and U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi have both called for boycotts of the Olympic Games’ opening ceremonies in Beijing in August.
Chen said this is not a wise move.
“These athletes have trained all their lives for such an opportunity. You should not take it from them,” said Chen.
“I think policymakers regret the boycott of the (1980) Moscow Olympics when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, and when Russia did not come to the (1984) Los Angeles games. That just poisoned the atmosphere and hurt the spirit of the Olympic Games.
“There are different ways to pursue their goals. The bottom line is I don’t think the independence issue is an issue in China, and most Chinese don’t view it as an issue. That means that they will never be independent, period.”