BEIJING - Boycotts and mini-boycotts. While the Chinese government may have its Tibet problems, its issues supporting the regimes in Sudan and Myanmar, its positions regarding Taiwan and a whole host of other things ... put all those aside for a minute. Boycotting the Olympics is no way to punish the leadership here. A boycott or mini-boycott would only be punishing the Chinese people and the athletes, both in China and abroad. Such action might produce the opposite of what it intends.
On August 8th, about 1 billion Chinese will be watching the Games, an event that will have cost them upwards of $40 billion by the time the torch is lit. Preparing for the Olympics has cost not only money, but time, energy, and lives. A large percentage of those 1 billion Chinese watching will be children, cheering on household names the likes of Wang Hao, Liu Xiang, and Guo Jingjing.
Would they even notice or care if the French foreign minister or some other VIP was not at the opening ceremonies? Likely not. Given the control the state has on the media here, they might not even know. A symbolic gesture? Only for home consumption. A full boycott? Yeah, that would be a bit different, but would probably only have any serious ramifications if a mass of countries said farewell to the Games. And that would probably be a disaster for China and the world.
I've been living in Beijing for a year now as of yesterday. It's sometimes extremely frustrating and a challenge, but more often than not it is a fascinating place to be. Part of that fascination is seeing how the Chinese prepare for the Games. To say they're very, very excited is an understatement. The success of the Olympics is what they're clinging onto most now. Inflation is up, snowstorms ravaged much of the southern part of the country in the first two months of the year, and the stock markets are straining from the global downturn. Take the Olympics away and it would be dire here indeed.
With all its problems, its government's awkwardness and sometimes baffling responses to world perception, China is increasingly opening up and becoming closer to what it probably should have been long ago. By China here I mean the Chinese people, not the government or leadership. I have a lot of my own qualms about that leadership for many reasons -- not just its handling of the Tibet issue -- as a lot of people around the world do. But a boycott wouldn't do anything to change how that leadership operates, it would only serve to push China to close in on itself. It would lead to the Chinese people to distrust the rest of the world more, as they long have, sometimes rightly so and sometimes not. It's not in anyone's interest to have a distrustful, nationalistic China out there. It's definitely not in the interest of the Chinese people or China's Tibetan population.
News updates, Beijing time ...
9:30pm: Little Red Blog has some great links to some Tibet tweeter action, including this massive aggregation by a Chinese citizen journalist. I don't know much about twittering or tweeting so need to check this out.