Thursday, April 10, 2008

Torching the Olympics

It was fascinating to watch the way various parties handled the scheduled run of the Olympic torch in San Francisco yesterday. I can understand the authorities' trepidation. San Francisco's Chinatown has the largest population of ethnic Chinese in any city outside China, many of whom welcome the idea of the Olympics being in China and were ready to celebrate. But various groups made it clear they planned to protest, and the potential for ugliness was palpable. I don't often like to give political authorities much credit, but in this case I thought they handled it pretty well.

I'm really pleased to see all the protests against the Beijing Olympics. As today's Register editorial says, it's unlikely to have an immediate impact on the Chinese regime in the near future except to get their hackles up. It's irrational for the Chinese to be so eager to keep Tibet, which is more a burr under the saddle than an asset, as part of China, but nation-states are often irrational. The protests, spoiling what the Chinese government hoped would be a successful debut as a world power, remind them that their system is deeply offensive to most people, despite its economic successes. If they were smart they would invite the Dalai Lama to the Games. He would probably come. But they may not be thinking strategically.

Over a longer term, the protests are likely to have some impact in softening the Chinese political system, though the Chinese will never admit it. It will be more than a little fascinating to see how it all plays out.

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