China faces PR disaster over Olympic torch protests

April 8th, 2008 - 7:22 pm ICT by admin  

By John Bagratuni
Hamburg (Germany), April 8 (DPA) China appears heading towards a disaster of Olympian proportion in its public relations campaign in connection with the protests marring the torch relay for the Beijing Games. While the pro-Tibet demonstrations and incidents in London, Paris and San Francisco made front-page news around the world Tuesday, China blasted them as outrageous and a violation of Olympic values.

Confronted with the ugly scenes around what was to be a symbol of harmony, the IOC is allegedly now even questioning the future of the torch relay.

French television described the trouble-marred Paris leg of the relay as “the torch’s way of the cross,” the nation’s papers spoke of “a fiasco” and “a nightmare,” while Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an editorial called the incidents “the fight for the flame”.

US readers found a photo of human rights activists on the pylons of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on the New York Times front page, with the caption “A protest of Olympic proportions”.

China and protesters both claim the right to use the Olympic flame as a strong symbol - with the IOC caught somewhere in-between.

But it is China that has more to lose.

No one disputes that Tibet as a territory is a part of China. But China’s crackdown of the unrest there only confirms the critics that China is trying to crush the culture and religion of the autonomous province.

The unrest which started last month has led to global fury over this issue and China’s human rights record in general.

“China has spent eight years and tens of billions of dollars preparing to host the Summer Games, which Beijing has envisioned as a kind of coming-of-age party to showcase its rapid growth. But the outbreak of violent unrest in Tibet and a continuing crackdown there by Chinese security forces has emboldened China’s critics…whose demands are often ignored in China and played down by Western leaders eager to promote Chinese trade and investment,” said the New York

For the protesters, the unrest showed that China has not lived up to the human rights promises it made when it was awarded the Olympics in 2001. As a result, their attempts Sunday and Monday to snuff the Olympic flame are regarded as a symbol to “blow out the lights on China’s policy”, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) commented.

The paper acknowledged that the protest itself was a sign of “helplessness” because it lacked substance and only attacked China, without coming up with genuine ideas for a solution.

China, for its part, appears not aware how much it has come “under the Olympic magnifying glass” - as Dutch daily De Volkskrant described the situation in an Olympic feature last week.

“The stubbornness with which it (the Chinese government) shrugs off the protests shows a complete lack of knowledge on the rules of an open society. It underestimates on a grand scale the event Olympia as a simple form of political marketing.

“The Chinese leadership is immobile and has no ideas. Either it ignores the impression of the protests - or it doesn’t understand it. Both show a big weakness,” said the SZ.

According to the New York Times, the Tibet issue “makes the Olympic Games an increasingly delicate political challenge for the governing Communist Party”.

China stuck to its position on Tuesday, with foreign ministry spokesman Jiang Yu speaking of “despicable activities” tarnishing the Olympic spirit.

Sun Weide, a spokesman for the Olympic organizing Committee BOCOG, insisted that “no force can stop the torch relay of the Beijing Games”.

The IOC can also no longer remain quiet about the besieged torch relay even though it has tried to keep sports and politics apart. It had initially hoped that the Games would lead to more freedom in China.

IOC boss Jacques Rogge said Tuesday he was “deeply saddened” by the last day’s incidents. The future of the relay - invented by Nazi Germany for the 1936 Games - appears in doubt.

French sports daily L’Equipe, meanwhile, said that the IOC must in the future think beyond sports, economics and a legacy and must use its Olympic values, including human rights, for the selection of host cities.

“We demand from the IOC in the future that it makes its ‘revolution’ and has its host country criteria based on its own charter,” said L’Equipe.

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