Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Chinese have closed Mt. Everest from the north until after the Olympic torch is carried up. The mountaineering community speculates that the Chi-Coms dread the appearance of a Free Tibet banner in propaganda photos. They have unsuccessfully lobbied the Nepalese government to impose a similar ban on south side expeditions. Interestingly, they have also closed Cho Oyu, which is not particularly close to Everest or the torch route, but was the sight of last year's shooting of Tibetans by the Chinese army. News of the atrocity was broken by a few mountaineers, a Brit, two Romanians and a Slovenian who provided photographic evidence. Most of the parties on the mountain said nothing at the time, no doubt fearing a reprisal just such as this season's ban. Given the narrow window of opportunity for climbing Everest, the need for extensive legwork and acclimatization, this effectively kills most expeditions from the north this year. The guiding companies will take a big hit, and I certainly feel bad for climbers who have already put massive sums towards their ambitions this season. A massive influx of climbers switching their plans to the Nepalese side may also make for a very interesting season.

I will not be watching the games this summer (not much of a boycott, since I don't even have a TV, but what else can I do?), since it is increasingly apparent that they will be mainly a massive PR stunt on behalf of the Chinese government. The only thing I worry I will miss out on is some daring act of protest, but no doubt that will be instantly available on Youtube. I do hope that something occurs to make the country's rulers exceedingly uncomfortable while every news agency on earth is covering them live. As inconvenient as the Everest closure is to mountaineers, we can only hope that it will be one more event to focus the world's attention on the deplorable behavior of the Chinese regime. I hope it makes the news, I hope it thereby brings the Nangpa La murders back on the news just in time for the torch relay. Romanian witness Alex Gavan put it in a nutshell:

”China, a country to host the Olympic Games in 2008, is slaughtering its citizens.”

Update, 3-16: Nepal succumbs. More here and here. I'll comment soon.

Update, 3-17: Also, lots of interest regarding the Lhasa protests/riots from Dave's Gone China, including translations of Chinese Internet chatter on Tibet (more), which provide an interesting window into how mainstream Chinese see the problem. Reactions are a mixed bag.

Alright, final update for now: The Nepalese deny closures, but the situation remains ambiguous. Meanwhile, here's some reporting from Lhasa. Welcome to interacting with China in the 21st Century, folks. The Everest closures of course pale in comparison with the situation in Lhasa, but I still think they deserve coverage inasmuch as they enlighten us to the realities of life in an unfree society. Your life's ambition, a large portion of your savings, your mountain guiding livelihood, even your subsistance as a sherpa or local purveyor can be demolished on a whim of your government, for the slenderest of PR justifications. The Chinese can also put substantial financial pressure on anyone who might see things differently, as with their 121 million Euro loan to Nepal. And yet we rush to make our economics ever more dependent on China's goodwill. The Taiwanese better not be counting on our protection; we have already been bought, we just don't seem to know it yet.


Voracious Reader said...

We're not watching either, but not just because of Tibet. It's horrible that anyone would participate in giving them this sort of forum, pretending like we don't know what really goes on there.

Peculiar said...

Hi Voracious,

No indeed, it's not just about Tibet. Tibet is useful for media purposes because it was recently invaded, it's Buddhist, it's a pretty fascinating place generally, and it's enormously popular with lots of Americans. But the citizens being slaughtered and oppressed are not just Tibetans, but Uighurs, Kirghiz, Mongols, Hmong, a thousand other minorities, and above all the Han Chinese, the largest ethnic group on earth.