E.U. weighs Olympic boycott over Tibet

The European Union meets Friday to discuss ties to China after the unrest in Tibet.

Francois Lenoir/Reuters
Solidarity with Tibet: A member of the European Parliament wore a T-shirt printed with the Olympic rings as handcuffs and displayed a Tibetan flag during a plenary session in Brussels on Wednesday.

If the government of China hopes the world will go for its line on Tibet and the nefarious Dalai Lama and his purported "clique" – Europe isn't buying it.

The response to the Tibetan crisis in London, Paris, and Berlin, rather, is a call for "dialogue" between China and the exiled Tibetan leader, and"restraint" by Beijing.

A boycott of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games is being discussed as a leverage point in Austria, Belgium, Britain, and France – to be determined by how China handles the frustrations of its Tibetan minority.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has "left open the option" of boycotting the ceremony, Germany has blocked talks with China on economic development, and Britain's foreign secretary, David Miliband, says that Tibet demonstrations will be authorized as the Olympic torch is carried through London on April 6.

Prince Charles, a friend of the Dalai Lama, had already decided in January not to attend the opening ceremony, he said, in a letter to a human rights group.

Europeans have long had a fascination with and sympathy for the Himalayan region and its Buddhist spiritual traditions – and the Dalai Lama is a frequent visitor to the Continent.

This Friday, Europe's foreign ministers meet in Slovenia, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, to adopt a common position on relations with Beijing and "the suffering of Tibet," as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner describes it.

The question in Slovenia is how to balance appreciation for the progress China has made with concern about the heavy handed tactics of an unelected government that has long eschewed any dialogue with those disagreeing with it. Most European states also have significant business interests in China.

While no European Union state is preparing to boycott the 2008 Games – "Let's not be more Tibetan than the Dalai Lama," who did not advocate boycott, says Mr. Kouchner – there is a general revulsion at the scenes out of Tibet, and at what is seen as an overheated Chinese propaganda effort to demonize the Dalai Lama and hold him responsible for violence.

In a clear rebuke to the Chinese position on Dalai Lama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown plans to meet the spiritual leader in May, and the Dalai Lama was invited to speak at a conference in Nantes, France, during the games in August.

As the British Foreign Office issued a human rights report critical of China this week, Mr. Miliband said, "There needs to be mutual respect between all communities and sustained dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities."

On May 22, the Dalai Lama will give a speech at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

On Wednesday Robert Menard, general secretary of Reporters Sans Frontières in Paris, the journalistic watchdog group, stated that Mr. Sarkozy should boycott the opening if China does not release 30 political prisoners who are on the lists of nearly every human rights group, and if foreign correspondents are continued to be banned from working in Tibet.

Mr. Menard's group raced to unfurl a flag with the Olympic rings rendered as handcuffs at the opening ceremony of the games in Athens this week, while a Chinese official was speaking. The act raised eyebrows in the journalistic community, which has depended on RSF to report on press violations. [Editor's note: The original version misidentified the flag the group unfurled and mischaracterized the reaction of the journalistic community.]

Prior to the China-Tibet dissatisfaction in Europe, many protest groups here demanded that China stop its support of the Sudanese government, widely regarded as a main culprit in the starvation and chaos in Darfur. The phrase "Genocide Olympics" has been used in Europe among human rights groups to describe the twinning of the Games with China's policy toward Sudan.

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