Is China Anticipating A Tibet Flare-Up During The 2022 Olympics?

Is China Anticipating A Tibet Flare-Up During The 2022 Olympics?

Tibetans take on Beijing as it prepares to host the Winter Olympics by calling attention to their plight and struggle for freedom.

tippinsights Editorial Board

With a history that stretches back centuries, Tibet, nestled in the Himalayas at an elevation of over 12,000 feet, has a unique character and outlook. As a solitary, peaceful country, it set an example for other countries to follow in terms of how to treat their citizens and neighbors.  This unique outlook is what prompted westerners to name the place, Shangri-la, meaning "a remote, beautiful, imaginary place where life approaches perfection."

However, this Shangri-la has been far from an idyllic locale for more than seven decades. The region was illegally occupied, in 1950, by its neighbor, the People's Republic of China, in what Beijing prefers to term a "peaceful liberation." Since then, the Tibetans have been an oppressed people struggling to preserve their language, culture, religion, and ways of life.

In the revolt by the Tibetan people in 1959, thousands lost their lives, and many more were later executed or sent to labor camps. The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, was forced to flee. Since then, he has lived in exile in neighboring India and has established a shadow Tibetan government. So far, the Dalai Lama's efforts to free his country have come to naught.

Though the international community is said to support the Tibetan demand for freedom and the independence movement, nothing concrete or tangible has come of it. Other than offering the Dalai Lama a warm welcome and cordial respect, the international community has not moved to stop Chinese atrocities and human rights violations in the region.

But, with the Winter Olympics slated to begin in Beijing, the Tibetan people are calling attention to their plight. They demand that the world hold China accountable for its human rights abuses in Tibet, East Turkestan, and Hong Kong.

The Athens Olympic torch lighting ceremony was disrupted by human rights activists bearing a Tibetan flag and a "No Genocide Games" banner. That was just the beginning.

Tibetans all over the world are protesting and making their voices heard. They are using the Olympic spotlight to demand freedom from Beijing. Recently, two Tibetan students chained themselves to the Olympic rings outside the International Olympic Committee headquarters, calling for an international boycott of the Games.

The Tibetan Youth Association in Europe (TYAE) argues that by collaborating with China, "the IOC is making itself an accomplice of the Chinese Communist Party's crimes, which will be sports-washed by the Beijing Olympics."

The Tibet Autonomous Region, under Beijing's control, is reported to be undergoing "cultural genocide." The Chinese army has destroyed Tibetan religious monuments and arrested religious leaders. The people enjoy very little freedom of movement and are constantly under surveillance. China's efforts to draft Tibetan men into the military to be a "buffer" against India and enforce China's new law on the LAC (Line of Actual Control) have not gone down well. Tibetan children are forced into government-run boarding schools that have been compared to the CCP's internment camps in Xinjiang. Very little news of the goings-on in the autonomous region reaches the outside world.

China's atrocious human rights record has compelled many countries to declare a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games. Beijing has strongly condemned the move.

But, the high visibility protests by Tibetan activists are making Beijing jittery. In late December 2021, it was reported that large numbers of Chinese police units had been moved to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. An anonymous source told Radio Free Asia that "Chinese authorities have also begun household inspections in these areas," citing local contacts in Draggo. "And local Tibetans are hiding any pictures they may have of the Dalai Lama, which have been banned by the Chinese government." The police and local authorities are doing their utmost to ensure that the protestors do not mar the prestigious games in Beijing.

A scene that calls attention to the plight of the Tibetan people and the oppressive actions of Beijing is the last thing Xi Jinping wants the world to witness at high-profile sporting event venues. In the build-up to the 2022 Olympics, China appears to be fearful of the Tibetan people. Self-immolation by monks, an organized uprising, or even peaceful protests at the Olympics will be a blemish on the pristine Games that Xi and the CCP hope to showcase.

The leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama, is a proponent of peace and a highly respected leader who walks the talk. But Tibetans, oppressed in their own land, many living in exile, and ever more fearful of losing their unique culture and identity, may not waste this golden opportunity to draw attention to their struggle.

Protests and demonstrations at such a widely-televised event will be hard for the international community to ignore. It just might spur world leaders to put pressure on China to grant at least some freedoms to the Tibetan people.

With calls for freedom grabbing the attention of the world’s media and leaders, Tibet's sovereignty may no longer remain a dormant issue, thanks to Beijing's desire to host the Winter Games.

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