Wednesday, April 09, 2008
WHO ARE THOSE GUYS?
t is becoming clearer that the baby-blue-clad Chinese security officers, who have been forming the first defensive ring around foreign torchbearers, are not mere ordinary security officers. Previously described in media reports as "Chinese Olympic officials" and even as "torchbearers", they are actually a specially trained squad of the paramilitary "People's Armed Police" -- which is itself the internal security force arm of the "People's Liberation Army."
These are the heavily armed units now involved in a massive buildup of forces in Tibetan regions, some of whom have been shooting to kill non-violent demonstrators.
The guards appear to be members of the Beijing Olympic Games Sacred Flame Protection unit, a detachment of personnel from China's People's Armed Police. This paramilitary force has wide-ranging duties, from protecting diplomatic missions to maintaining internal security. Units of the People's Armed Police were deployed to forcibly quell violent unrest last month in Tibet.Don't you love that? The "Sacred Flame Protection Unit". They were hand-picked from the elite of Chinese special forces.
Last August, Olympic officials, police officials and Beijing city officials held a well-publicized swearing-in ceremony for men recruited from the People's Armed Police special-forces training academy. Their mission: guard the torch and the lamp containing the flame from Olympia, Greece.These squads -- forty personnel to handle the torch relay within China and Tibet, and thirty for the worldwide relay -- are described as being unprepared for accomodating western freedom of expression.
Weeks before the torch reached Paris, officials from the Chinese embassy there met with Paris police to prepare for the protests. From the start of those talks, it became clear that the Chinese officials weren't accustomed to dealing with widespread street protest, according to Ms. Lajus, the Paris police spokeswoman.British police were also not made aware that these men were special PAP forces, though it's unclear who they actually thought these fellows were. British TV presenter Konnie Huq didn't have a great experience.
"We had a hard time explaining to them that we couldn't just ban all protesters from the street," she said.
In interviews afterward, Ms. Huq described the guards as "aggressive" and "robotic," barking commands at her throughout the run.This innocuous button was the initiative of some of the athletes. What could be more in tune with the Chinese official slogan, "One World, One Dream"? Who could object to the goal of a better world? Answer: the "tall, handsome and mighty" squad. I thought these guys were Chinese athletes, when I first saw them at Mount Olympus.
Stéphane Diagana, a former hurdler who was the first torch-bearer in the Paris relay, said he noticed the Chinese guards were on edge from the beginning, when protesters immediately began to gather round the torch.
"They were very cross and nervous," he said. "They didn't care about the torch-bearers at all."
Mr. Diagana said one of the men told him to remove a badge saying "For a Better World" from his uniform. Mr. Diagana says he refused.
"They were barking orders at me, like 'Run! Stop! This! That!' and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, who are these people?'" former television host Konnie Huq told British Broadcasting Corp. radio about her encounter with the men in blue during London's leg of the relay Sunday...At least one of the Paris torchbearers actually had to fight with the paramilitary squad, as she prepared for her turn with the torch.
Members were picked from special police units of the People's Armed Police, China's internal security force. The requirements for the job: to be "tall, handsome, mighty, in exceptional physical condition similar to that of professional athletes," the state-run China News Service said.
Special police units are the top tier of the paramilitary corps, chosen for skills in martial arts, marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat, according to sinodefence.com, a British-based Web site specializing in Chinese military affairs.
Yolaine De La Bigne, a French environmental journalist who was a torchbearer in Paris, told The Associated Press she tried to wear a headband with a Tibetan flag, but the Chinese agents ripped it away from her.Few people today seem to know what the actual origins of this Olympic "tradition" of running the torch really are. But this AP article has it, at least.
"It was seen and then, after four seconds, all the Chinese security pounced on me. There were at least five or six (of them). They started to get angry" and shouted "No! No! No!" in English, she said.
De La Bigne tried to push several agents away as they grabbed her arm. She said two French athletes who are martial arts experts tried to help her and clashed briefly with the security detail.
The Olympic flame wasn't part of the ancient games, and the torch relay didn't become a fixture in the modern Olympics until the 1936 Berlin Games, when it was part of the Nazi pageantry that promoted Hitler's beliefs of Aryan supremacy in the world of sports.Now the torch is slated to be carried through Tibet. And we can be sure that the Chinese runner chosen to carry the flame into the Beijing "Bird's Nest" will be selected for similar reasons as in 1936.
That first 12-day relay from Ancient Olympia to Berlin traversed Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and other nations that would later be invaded by the Nazis. And the torch was borne into the Reichstaddion by a blond, blue-eyed runner chosen for his Aryan features.
The People's Armed Police is a security force unit of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). It has been very active in putting down recent protests in Tibet. Free Tibet Campaign has received eyewitness accounts that the PAP have been involved in cases of brutality during the recent protests, including firing live ammunition into crowds of Tibetan protesters on April 3 in [Kardze] county in Sichuan province.The San Francisco police need to immediately tell these thugs they must stay in their hotel rooms today, when the run starts in a few hours' time. French officials are already criticising them over the fiasco on Monday, when the agents were said to have impeded procedures.
Matt Whitticase of Free Tibet Campaign said: "It beggars belief that personnel from the PAP were allowed on to the streets of London at all, let alone that they were allowed to push Metropolitan Police around. They come from the same unit that shot dead in cold blood a Tibetan woman on the Nangpa-la Pass in September 2006 and the PAP has been very active in brutally putting down recent Tibetan protests inside Tibet, according to eyewitness statements received by Free Tibet Campaign. The British government must explain immediately who authorised this unit to scuffle with our own police, and whether the government knew that they came from the PAP when they were authorised to escort the flame on London's streets."
"The attitude of the Chinese authorities and their constant prevarication and procrastination made our task more difficult because it slowed down the procession's normal progress," Pierre Mure, director of public order and traffic at Paris police, told TF1 television.A French Olympic champion who carried the torch in Paris also took a dim view of their attitude.
Chinese officials were not immediately available to respond to the comments...
"They (the Chinese) do not have the same practices towards demonstrations," police spokeswoman Marie Frejus told LCI television, adding that preparatory meetings with the Chinese had sometimes been "difficult".
"We felt there was prevarication on the part of the Chinese authorities. Representatives with whom we were in contact did not all have the same position," she added.
One of the Chinese officials running in the procession extinguished the torch just as two-time Olympic judo champion David Douillet was preparing to hand over to the next athlete, judo world champion Teddy Riner.It was briefly reported yesterday that the IOC would consider scrapping the international relay at a meeting on Friday, although this was later denied by IOC president Jacques Rogge in Beijing. But I got a kick out of one IOC member's reason for dismissing the protests' propriety. Gunilla Lindberg, an IOC member from Sweden said, "Using the torch this way is almost a crime. This is the property of the IOC. It is not a Chinese torch."
"It is incomprehensible. It is as if someone spat in my face," said Douillet, who is head of the French Olympic Committee's athletes' commission.
"They have trampled on the Olympic rings. They have trampled on the athletes who carry the values of the Olympic Games," Douillet told LCI...
Douillet later told RTL radio the Chinese officials did not know how to cope with what was happening, dismissing the tracksuit-clad security operatives as "robots or watchdogs".
"Given what happened yesterday, the athletes are asking themselves one question: how will they be treated in Beijing?"
Sorry Gunilla, it most certainly is a Chinese torch. The CCP, through its Beijing 2008 Committee, has invested China's nationalist pride in that torch. And now, in whipping up its citizens into a hyper-nationalistic frenzy over the crackdown in Tibet, and vowing to take the torch through Tibet at all costs, they've made it into even more of a "Chinese torch." It's no longer representative of the "Olympic spirit", but of Chinese colonialism, and imperial harmony at gunpoint.
The Chinese government is now obliged to deny that it is reponsible for the recent wave of hostile threats against foreign journalists who participated in the CCP's show tour of Lhasa two weeks ago. The journalists' phone numbers and other details were leaked on a military-oriented Chinese website. China has also halted the issuance of short-stay visas to foreigners entering from Hong Kong. The measure will remain in place until after the Games. That should do wonders for tourism and business!
The China Post, based in the democratic China on the island of Taiwan, reports that Dalai Lama has approached fellow Nobel laureate Mikhail Gobachev for help in resolving the Tibet crisis in an honourable way.
"The Dalai Lama called on me as chairman of the Nobel Prize winners' forum, where we both participate," the former Soviet president said.Sure there's ground for dialogue. Dalai Lama is advocating (against many of his people's wishes, and he's the only one able to persuade them to accept it) genuine autonomy within PRC. That has been his position for decades. One side has long been prepared for real, meaningful talks, while the other side plays games to stall until he dies. Good luck, Gorby!
"He is concerned by the situation in Tibet and voiced hope that I and other well-known politicians can bring it back into peaceful resolution," he added.
Gorbachev said that the Dalai Lama was not disputing China's territorial integrity, noting that Chinese officials have said Beijing was open for "contacts and consultations" if the call for Tibetan independence was renounced.
"I think that we can find ground for dialogue. All must show prudence and avoid reckless acts," Gorbachev said.
One new international leader is seen as one who may be able to convince the Chinese to begin acting honourably. He's fluent in Mandarin, which is a real bonus since Chinese leaders hate speaking English, even if they can. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has just arrived on an official visit to China, where he spoke to Beijing University students today. He told them that "it is necessary to recognise there are significant human rights problems in Tibet." You may yet win me over, Kev, if you can keep this up. There was no word on the students' reactions to the straight talk.
I noticed another politician with China connections speaking out yesterday. Current Utah Governor Jon Huntsman ran the Asian Affairs bureau for the US Commerce Dept. at the time of the brutal Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, has served as a US trade representative in China, and also speaks fluent Mandarin. He supports the protests now taking place worldwide, but he also supports an engagement policy with China. He says Chinese leaders must have anticipated protests when it bid for the Games, and suggests that it was actually the reformers within the leadership circle who had originally pushed for getting the Olympics. This is very interesting, if right.
"This is unprecedented for the Chinese to subject themselves to this kind of scrutiny and spotlight, and they knew in 2001 that would be part and parcel of hosting the Games," he said. "The reformers won out years ago by saying this is a good thing. There will be change."I sure hope he's right, but there isn't much sign of change yet. Yesterday once again, China stepped up its strident rhetoric even further, revealing the rigid bone structure of what will be their fundamental argument against engagement with the Tibetans' beloved spiritual leader. It's not pretty, but these are the common arguments now being put forth by an army of PRC writers in blog and YouTube comments sections.
[Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu] told a news briefing in Beijing, "The Dalai Lama was the ruler of theocratic serfdom which was the darkest slavery in mankind's history, without any form of democracy, freedom or human rights."And they bolster this crap with certain western writings from ideological creeps like Michael Parenti (see here if you haven't already). Dalai Lama was 15 years old at the time of the invasion, which forced him to assume his duties years before it was customary (regents would hold the reins while the Dalai Lamas were minors). Yet he already had plans for the modernisation of his country (which happens to be one of the very first countries in the world which abolished the death penalty). He was inquisitive, science-oriented (as he still is), and loved the idea of democracy even at that isolated period. Left alone, Tibet would very likely have become one of the first free democracies in Asia, in India's footsteps.
"The Dalai Lama -- seeking the 'middle way' -- aims to bring back his previous heaven and put the millions of emancipated serfs back into the dark age."
"The Dalai Lama lies for living. What he says is not important, what he does is. He recently orchestrated the criminal acts of violence in Lhasa."
China's tougher public line on Tibet comes as an international media watchdog, the Committee to Protect Journalists, released a statement late Monday, expressing concern at threatening texts and e-mails sent to some Western media companies in Beijing, accusing them of biased reporting over Tibet.We've seen the denial of involvement already. I don't know if I buy it.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang denied suggestions that the campaign has been orchestrated by the authorities to try to intimidate foreign journalists, saying it was a spontaneous expression of Chinese people's anger over Western bias.The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong has warned its members to remain on high security alert, and to watch their backs. The CCP is highly talented at stirring up resentful patriotism among the masses, but they're not so good at controlling the tiger once they've set it loose. We saw that in spades during 2005's anti-Japan riots, which the government loved. For a while, until it got out of hand. I have no more confidence in their ability to manage it this time.
"We will continue to protect the rights of foreign journalists working in China," she said.