Olympic Torch Relay Ceremony:
China makes a Geopolitical Statement
by Dr. Adityanjee (23 April 2008), CSA position paper
Government of India must have heaved a sigh of relief after the Beijing Olympics torch passed through India’s forbidden city without any untoward incident thereby pleasing their Chinese masters! The riveting drama of the Beijing Olympics Torch relay started on April 1, 2008. Since then the Olympic torch relay has been in news perpetually owing to the noisy protests by Tibetan independence activists, Buddhists and international human rights activists against the Chinese government’s repression of Buddhist monks in Tibet.
China conveniently denounces all these protests as sacrilege against the holy spirit of Olympics. Trying to take a high, moral ground, China has accused the protestors of mixing politics with sports. For the first time in the history of Olympics, the so-called sacred flame has aroused intense passions far and wide.
The 2008 Olympic torch relay has obviously brought the focus of the whole world’s attention on China’s annexation of Tibet and continued repression. In 1896, at the time of re-introduction of Olympic Games, the Olympic torch relay was not part of the official ceremonies. Only a ceremonial fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympic games in Greece. Per Greek mythology, Prometheus stole the fire from the Greek god Zeus and the ancient Olympics ritualized that Greek mythical story.
The ceremonial Olympic Fire was reintroduced at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, and it has been part of the modern Olympic Games ever since. The international Olympic flame (torch) relay was not a time honored ceremonial ritual and was invented in 1936 by Hitler and his cronies as a pan-Aryan gesture.
Nazi Invention Of Olympic Torch Relay
The modern Olympic torch relay was masterminded by Dr. Carl Diem, a Nazi commander and Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the notorious Minster for Information and propaganda for the Nazi Germany. This newly introduced ceremonial ritual was part of an effort to turn the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games into geo-political glorification of the resurgent Nazi Germany under the Third Reich. This journey of Aryan Supremacy from Greece to Germany was carried out in relay by more than three thousand Aryan Blonde athletes and the whole drama was filmed by Leni Riefenstahl in his movie Olympia released subsequently in 1938. The passage of Olympic torch through the European countries was cheered by their citizens in the name of German glory. It was the Nazis way of demonstrating to the whole world how Aryan athletes, like the mighty and powerful Greek Gods, were meant to rule the world.
The geo-political, economic and cultural power of the Third Reich was projected internationally by this newly crafted ceremony. This torch relay had nothing to do with the spirit of the Olympic sports and everything to do with the politics of power projection. Unfortunately, the torch relay, was adopted as an Olympic ritual later on, albeit, in a very low key manner. Sydney Olympics in 2000 publicized and politicized the torch relay around the Pacific Rim island nations. This torch relay covered 27,000 kilometers over 127 days again with a view to power projection, i.e. identifying the Australian sphere of geo-political influence. More recently, Athens Olympics staged an extensive torch tour clocking 86,000 kilometers over 142 days in 2004 to mark the Games return to their ancient home. It did not generate any commotion or controversy as Greece was not perceived an oppressing nation by the international community.
Chinese Version Of Olympic Torch Relay
In a strange twist of irony, China decided to recapitulate the foot-steps taken by the Nazi Germany and also for similar reasons, mainly power projection and making a geo-political statement. It is an aggressive and resurgent China, analogous to the aggressively resurgent Germany under the Hitler regime, economically rising and full of national pride that set up this unprecedented 137,000 kilometers long epic journey. This grandiosely planned torch relay is the longest in Olympic history and has the most torchbearers. Billions of dollars have been lavished on the Olympic Games by Beijing, which hopes to showcase China's rising economic and political power. In this longest torch relay in Olympic history, the torch was supposed to have been taken on a 130-daysJourney of China’s Glory around the world.
China is now angrily denouncing the international protestors as the Torch of Tyranny relay faces insurmountable protests and highly adverse publicity. The spokesperson for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games (BOCOG), Sun Weide has categorically announced: No force can stop the torch relay of the Olympic Games, as if China owns the Olympics torch and not the International Olympic Committee (IOC). London and Paris legs of the relay were indeed marred by noisy protests. San Francisco leg was secretively and stealthily re-routed to avoid more protests. These continuing protests by Tibetan independence activists have forced changes in the torch relay route. Under pressure from China, Pakistan reduced the ceremony to just a ritual in the Jinnah stadium without exposing the Olympic torch to the streets of Islamabad. India cut down the torch route from two cities to only one with reduction in the route to only 2.3 kilometers instead of originally planned nine kilometers. To plagiarize a radio journalist, the China’s characterization of Olympic torch relay as the "Journey of Harmony," has already been metamorphosed into the Flame of Shame.
Future Sovereignty And Suzerainty
The Beijing Olympic torch has already raised geo-political disputes about the sovereignty of the regions that it passes. In Chinese feudal mindset, the regions/ land-masses (countries) where the Olympic torch passes will be under Chinese suzerainty in future. That does include Taiwan, Tibet and the Mount Everest. Plans to carry the 2008 torch up the North face of Mount Everest have also been met with supporters of Tibetan independence. No wonder Chinese army entered Nepal to quieten down the Tibetan protestors in Nepal.
For the same reason, Chinese government insists that the Olympic torch must pass through Tibet to buttress the China’s newly discovered historical claims over the entire Tiebtan plateau. Similarly, the organizers of the Beijing Games had originally planned for the torch to pass through Taiwan before going to Hong Kong and then to mainland China implying that Taiwan is only a province of China and not an independent country.
Taiwan rejected this proposed route because Taiwanese government wished the flame to enter and leave their country by a third country, so that the torch will not downgrade Taiwan's de facto and de jure sovereignty. Negotiations broke down when Taiwan demanded that the flag and anthem of the Republic of China be displayed on the route, instead of the Chinese Taipei flag and anthem. Ultimately, Taiwan refused to buckle down under Chinese pressure.
Taiwan did not allow the torch to pass through the Taiwanese territory denying China a golden opportunity to misuse the Olympic torch route for making future geo-political claims on Taiwanese land.
China’s pursuit of aggressive imperialism and regional hegemony is now beginning to be obvious to the whole world. The symbolism of the unquenchable sacred flame is getting identified with China’s un-quenching thirst for continued expansionism and neo-imperialism. This Olympic torch relay euphemistically characterized in the Chinese double-speak as the Journey of Harmony needs to be understood in geo-political terms as the Journey of Chinese Triumph over the world.
Chinese Mindset And Historical Distortions
In the imperialist Chinese mindset, Admiral Ho in 14th century conquered whole of the South East Asia, therefore, modern China has historical claims over the whole of that region. This is the basis of Chinese claims over the Paracel islands. Similarly, if any king sent an emissary with tribute to the Chinese emperor as a gesture of goodwill, feudal China interpreted that state as a vassal state or tributary state under Chinese jurisdiction/ suzerainty in perpetuity. The historian RC Mazumdar has noted the aggressive imperialism that characterized the politics of China through the course of her history if a region once acknowledged her nominal suzerainty even for a short period, China would regard it as a part of her empire for ever and would automatically revive her claim over it even after a thousand years. Unfortunately, China continues to make claims on other nations territories as a result of this expansionist and hegemonistic mindset. China’s planning of the Olympic torch relay route is definitely influenced by a hidden agenda which the IOC and the international community failed to understand before this became a controversy.
The Chinese Version Of The Ancient Ashwamedha Yajna
By this real-life, modern Chinese Opera on the pilgrimage of the Sacred Flame of the Holy Olympics one is reminded of the ancient Hindu ritual of Ashwamedha Yajna during which the sacred horse passing through any territory had to be protected by the vast army of soldiers of the King performing the Yajna. If anyone interfered with the journey of the sacred horse, that person was eliminated on the spot by the army guarding the sacred horse. The land through which sacred horse passed had to either accept the suzerainty of or fight the King-Emperor performing the yajna. There are clear parallels in the grandiose Chinese plan for the Olympic torch relay route and the pressure by the Chinese government on the host nations for the security of the torch as well as on the IOC to support the Chinese government’s action against the Tibetan protestors on foreign soils. The sinister men in blue accompanying the torch everywhere have been scuffling with policemen and the public as if naturally entitled to do so. These blue track-suited Chinese commandos guarding the sacred flame and brutally man-handling the protestors on the soil of third countries concretely symbolize the geo-political aspirations for world domination by a resurgent and aggressive China.
China's Covert Statement of Hegemony
Viewed in this light, Chinese over-reaction is very much an imperialist threat of retaliation against those who do not protect Chinese interests during the Journey of the Harmony. Going by the past precedents, it is not unlikely that future Chinese historians will claim all these lands/territories where the Olympic torch passed as part of the Chinese empire because the states were vassal states paying obeisance to the Chinese Emperor Hu Jintao! While usurping the Olympics for geo-political purposes, China is articulating a hegemonistic doctrine albeit couching it in acceptable diplomatese double-speak with a lot of ambiguity for future interpretation. Although the official Chinese motto for the 2008 Olympics is One World, One Dream, it is incomplete and half-said. What Communist China actually would have liked the motto for Beijing Olympics is really: One World, One Dream, China Supreme.
China's Pressure on Other Countries
China had expressed its displeasure at protests in London and Paris forcing the San Francisco mayor to change the route stealthily at the last minute. The police chief in Paris promised to look after the torch as he would guard a head of state. Some protestors in San Francisco got arrested for conspiracy. The Chinese government has insisted on blue track-suited Chinese commandos guarding the torch. Lord Sebastian Coe in London described these Chinese commandos as thugs and hoodlums who manhandled the torch-bearers including him. TV images world-wide showed how these Chinese commandos without batting an eyelid manhandled the protestors in various European countries breaking the local law as if they had the divine mandate to use brutal force. China has also instructed the IOC president Jacques Rogge not to comment on the protests and political aspects relating to Tibet and focus on the smooth passage of the Olympic Games. China has criticized Nicolas Sarkozy for his decision to boycott the opening ceremonies and indirectly threatened with strained bilateral Sino-French relations. Although some nations, including India, succumbed to Chinese bullying tactics, Australia has already warned that these Chinese commandos will have to travel in a bus following the torch relay. Any security to the torch will be provided by the Australian security forces and not by the Chinese commandos. In case any of these commandos manhandled a protestor, he will be immediately arrested for violating the Australian law. Australia is definitely guarding her sovereignty by not allowing Chinese commandos violate the local laws of an independent and democratic country.
Alongside this paranoia is the Chinese attempt to play the protests down by sheer misreporting, and by repeatedly asserting, that there is nothing political about the Olympics. China ostensibly claims that these games are all about reconciliation, hope, peace and harmony. Unfortunately, China is not alone in keeping up this spuriously apolitical rhetoric. The Olympics have become a tool of geo-political statements and assertions. IOC has become a party to this charade. China has aggressively targeted media outlets that have covered these protests without censorship. CNN has been singled out by the Chinese government. Unknown activists (of Chinese origin) have reportedly phoned and e-mailed death threats to reporters. Most of the criticism of the CNN concerns a photograph posted on its Web site weeks ago which cropped out Tibetans throwing stones at Chinese security forces.
China's Pressure on India
The torch relay passed through New Delhi at the cost of India’s democratic credentials under Chinese pressure. By turning the 2.3 kilometer route under massive security lock-down, and by disallowing any democratic expression of people’s feelings about Chinese repression in Tibet, the Government of India did not cover itself in glory. The communist China was able to dictate to Government of Republic of India on this particular issue. In return, the Government of India got a pat on its back and a certificate of good behavior from the high and mighty neighbor from the North.
Paranoid about the security of the torch, China had earlier sought permission from India to track the relay from the air, and evacuate it in case of an emergency. The request had originally come to the directorate-general of civil aviation (DGCA) through the external affairs ministry. This impudent request from China to guard Indian airspace had come before the torch ran into trouble in London and Paris. India had refused to allow Chinese air surveillance of the Olympic torch in Delhi, claiming that it could provide foolproof protection to the torch after consultations with the top brass of intelligence and security agencies. However, keeping diplomatic sensitivities in mind, the government of India allowed permission to a Chinese cargo carrier to fly to Mumbai and Chennai.
Resisting the pressure from communist China and their Indian lackeys, some of the Indian sportspersons and media personalities rightly pulled out of this bizarre torch relay drama. Baichung Bhutia, captain of the Indian football team was the first one to refuse stating, "I sympathize with the Tibetan cause. This is my way of standing by the people of Tibet and their struggle." Those who chose to run the torch relay will perhaps be remembered in the history as being the traitors to democracy! Tibetan activists were able to organize their protests earlier. That was the saving grace for India that has historical, cultural and civilizational links with Tibet. The more prudent approach for the Government of India would have been to cancel the tainted torch relay on the Indian soil sending a firm message to both communist China and the international community.
Future Of Olympic Torch Relays
It is likely that the International Olympics Committee would amend its rules so that host nations don't have to take the torch across international borders and expose it to security breaches. The IOC will consider doing away with overseas relay of the Olympic torch in the future. This may, indeed, be the last Olympic torch relay for displaying geo-political power by the host nation. If that turns out to be the case, the international protest against Beijing Olympic torch relay will become an historical case study for political science students.
On a separate note, China�s leaders may regret their decision to politicize the Beijing Olympics from day one by foolishly bringing issues of sovereignty to the Olympic torch relay route. The churning of international public opinion though restrained at this time will eventually facilitate a change in attitude of the international community leading eventually to independence of Tibet and Taiwan and unmasking of the Chinese geo-political game for what it is!
April 22, 2008
Dr. Adityanjee is the President of Council for Strategic Affairs, New Delhi and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed are those of the author and not of the website.