Today's date:
Spring 2008

Tibet and the Olympics

Wei Jingsheng is one of China's most prominent dissidents going back to the "Democracy Wall" protests in 1978. After spending 18 years in Chinese prisons, he now lives in exile in New York.

New York -- The Tibetans have long chafed under the oppression of the Chinese Communist Party. In 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled to exile in India, the protest of the Tibetans was harshly suppressed in a massacre that lasted more than a year. Beginning then, more than a million Tibetans have reportedly lost their lives because of the Chinese government's policies.

In 1989, it was the current Chinese Party leader, Hu Jintao, then in his capacity as a provincial leader, who suppressed yet another revolt in Lhasa by bringing in the military to kill people in the streets. And, of course, the whole world knows what happened in Tiananmen Square that same year.

Clearly, without human rights and the rule of law, neither Tibetans nor the majority Han Chinese are safe from persecution at the whim of the Communist authorities.

The old lies and propaganda don't work anymore. In the past, many Han Chinese didn't know about the sufferings of the Tibetans. Now thanks to travel, tourism, cell phones and the Internet, the majority Han understand that the Tibetan struggle against tyranny is the same as theirs.

Of course, as part of its "peaceful" face, the Chinese authorities have expressed their willingness to resolve the Tibetan issue through negotiation. But, just as with the case of Darfur, there is no sincerity behind this willingness unless international pressure is brought to bear. If there has been any lesson in all my years as an activist for democracy and human rights in China, it is that only international pressure coupled with internal pressure will yield solid results.

The Tibet unrest comes on the eve of the Beijing Olympic Games. These Olympics are the turning point in modern Chinese history. Having invited the world to polite tea by hosting the Olympics, the Communist Party rulers have turned their palace of power into a global glass house. They can't any longer show the smiling face of "a peaceful rise" to the world and the stern face of brutal suppression at home.

The Olympics will force China to show its true face. But only international pressure will make sure it is the face we all want to see.