Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Lighting the Passions
Today the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee (BOCOG) held its press conference today to talk about the upcoming torch relay which begins in Olympia, Greece on March 24.
And as the torch is planned to go through all of China's 31 provinces, autonomous regions and cities including Tibet, a large foreign media contingent attended the briefing.
Executive vice president of BOCOG Jiang Xiaoyu gave a rundown of the "Journey of Harmony", continually stressing how it conveys the message of peace and harmony to the world.
But foreign journalists weren't interested in the torch going by the British Museum in London, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Moscow. Neither were they keen to know more about the youngest torchbearer (14) or the oldest (94).
One asked given the situation in Tibet, would the route to Mount Everest continue as planned? Would special security be in place for the torchbearers?
Jiang said the situation in Lhasa is now "relatively calm" and the local government will do its utmost to make sure the operation of the torch relay will go as planned.
What about the possibility of people overseas protesting the torch relay in the cities where the Olympic flame will pass through?
The BOCOG official had no definite answer except to say "those who oppose the Games are doing it against the spirit of the Olympic charter, the Olympic spirit and the Journey of Passion.... these people are doomed to failure."
Another asked if there would be stepped up security for the torchbearers especially in Tibet, Gansu, Sichuan and Xinjiang Autonomous Region, as there have been reports of unrest in those areas. The reporter pointed out if those areas were unsafe for foreign reporters, how could those places be safe for torchbearers and the journalists covering the relay?
Again Jiang sought to soothe concerns saying everything was under control and going as planned without elaborating on any security details.
However, he eventually conceded there are contingency plans in place for events like weather changes, and that may include changing the route or canceling the relay in certain cities.
This will be the longest-ever Olympic torch relay, covering 130 days and over five continents. Within China the torch will criss-cross the country and even go up to Mount Everest in May. BOCOG struck a deal with the International Olympic Committee, where for the first time, there will be two flames, one at the Everest base camp while the other goes across China. Once the weather conditions are good, the torch will make the ascent up the world's highest peak, while the other will be suspended until the torch reaches the summit.
Almost a year ago a brouhaha erupted over Taiwan's position within the torch relay route, making it look like it was a part of China. Taiwan refused to cooperate despite China insisting the route was set. In the end Taiwan wasn't included, though some Taiwanese will participate as torchbearers.
The Chinese are aiming for the biggest, longest, highest torch relay ever. It's a lofty goal, but one wonders if they really do realize the security risks that could possibly occur -- from angry protestors to possible suicide bombers.
Saying things are going as planned somehow seems not as reassuring as it's meant to be.