Jacques Rogge and his history of China

It was hard to believe the report by Roger Blitz in the Weekend FT about Jacques Rogge

Like most sportsmen, politics barely featured in his upbringing. The 65-year-old Belgian combined a career as an orthopaedic surgeon with an aptitude for yachting that took him to three successive Olympics.

Reading the rest of the article, it seems that he probably passed on history as well,

“It took us 200 years to evolve from the French Revolution. China started in 1949. At that time it was a country of famine, epidemics, floods and civil war. It had no economy, no health care, no education system and there was 600m of them,” he says. “They had to build that and it was a bumpy road. We all know that there were abuses under Mao and the Cultural Revolution was not a nice period. But gradually, steadily, over 60 years, they evolved, and they were able to introduce a lot of changes.”

Back in 1949, Mr Rogge pointed out, the UK was a colonial power. So too were Belgium, France and Portugal, “with all the abuse attached to colonial powers. It was only 40 years ago that we gave liberty to the colonies. Let’s be a little bit more modest”. China may not be a role model in the west, Mr Rogge concedes, but “we owe China to give them time”.

It is hard whether to know whether to laugh or cry.


More disturbing news from Tibet. An interesting post by James Forsyth in Coffee House, suggesting it may be time (and notwithstanding realpolitik) to think about whether we should boycott Beijing 2008. He links to Vaclav Havel’s letter in Comment is free on Guardian.co.uk, which is headed “Asking China to exercise restraint in Tibet is not enough: the international community must use its influence to halt human rights abuses”, and finishes

“Merely urging the Chinese government to exercise the “utmost restraint” in dealing with the Tibetan people, as governments around the world are doing, is far too weak a response. The international community, beginning with the United Nations and followed by the European Union, Asean, and other international organisations, as well as individual countries, should use every means possible to step up pressure on the Chinese government to allow foreign media, as well as international fact-finding missions, into Tibet and adjoining provinces in order to enable objective investigations of what has been happening; release all those who only peacefully exercised their internationally guaranteed human rights, and guarantee that no one is subjected to torture and unfair trials; enter into a meaningful dialogue with the representatives of the Tibetan people.

Unless these conditions are fulfilled, the International Olympic Committee should seriously reconsider whether holding this summer’s Olympic games in a country that includes a peaceful graveyard remains a good idea.”

For a less reverent comment, see Robert Shrimsley in today’s FT, Carrying a torch for China in Tibet. This imagines all you need to know about our lords and masters (?) in Europe.

Trouble in Tibet

Some things don’t change, and this remains true of China. However hard the West seeks engagement, and despite the clear importance of China in global economic terms (see this week’s Economist Special Report), we remain in different worlds. Nothing has pointed this up so starkly than the unfolding violence in Tibet, and the response of China, caught between what it probably would like to do (Tianmen Square Mk. 2) and still may, and what it can, given the Beijing Olympics. In FT.com, Richard McGregor reports:

A dispatch from Xinhua, the state news agency, over the weekend, called the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader a “master terror maker” who had willed his supporters in Lhasa to stage violent demonstrations.

“Now the blaze and blood in Lhasa has unclad the nature of the Dalai Lama, it’s time for the international community to recheck their stance towards the group’s camouflage of non-violence, if they do not want to be willingly misled,” the Xinhua report said.

Such hectoring missives typify the Chinese response, which has been to place the protests firmly in the context of the wider sovereignty dispute, the most sensitive issue for the ruling communist party.

With the Beijing 2008 only months away, and a US Presidential election campaign gathering steam, what is now happening in Lhasa and elsewhere in Tibet will have much wider repercussions, whether the Chinese like it or not. Meanwhile the Dalai Lama walks a difficult line:

“The Tibet nation is facing serious danger. Whether China’s government admits or not, there is a problem,” he said at a press conference at Dharamsala, India, on Sunday. “(But) the Olympics should not be called off.”