President Bush hasn't declared himself about the opening ceremony, understandably. If he says he won't go now, he'll lose any leverage over the Chinese. But ultimately he can't go, unless he wants to repeat his father's experience of rubbing shoulders with Chinese officialdom fresh from a crackdown. Bush has talked about religious freedom more than any other American president. In the past, he hasn't hesitated to irk China, meeting with the Dalai Lama in the White House.
We're warned that a boycott of the opening ceremonies would inflame Chinese nationalism. But China is a rising power beginning to flex its muscles; its nationalism gets exercised by nearly anything. We can't be held hostage to the perpetual inflammation of people whose nationalism entails stamping out the independence and culture of another country.
It is the misfortune of Beijing that it has lost the cachet it once had on the left. The country is associated less with Mao's Little Red Book than with capitalist development and rampant pollution, making it an acceptable target for moral censure. It helps that Tibet's most famous representative is a Buddhist monk and that the autonomy of a landlocked Central Asian region at 16,000 feet is a cause safely sequestered from any hint of the American national interest.
Tibet will surely get more restive rather than less as the August games approach. They are simply too good a platform for international attention (the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests began upon a high-profile visit by Mikhail Gorbachev). China will respond brutishly and hope its Olympic stage-management still comes off without a hitch.
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