By Bill Powell
It is still nearly five months before the Olympic torch is to be lit in, officially starting the 29th summer Olympics. But, diplomats in the Chinese capital believe that a high level game of chicken has already begun, one that has now turned deadly – first, in , the capital of what calls the Tibet Autonomous Region, and now elsewhere, according to Tibetan exiles and human rights groups.
Yesterday, in China’s The escalating confrontation in and around Tibet is a nightmare for China’s top leadership, but one, some diplomats believe, that could not have taken anyone in the central government completely by surprise. It pits the leadership in Beijing against its domestic opponents – who include not only Tibetan dissidents, but also separatist groups in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang, as well as human rights and political activists throughout the country., at least eight bodies were brought to a Buddhist monastery in Aba prefecture, allegedly shot dead by Chinese riot control police, according to an eyewitness account quoted by .
Each side understood that the months leading up to the Games would be “extremely sensitive,” as one diplomat put it. The government knew “from day one,” another diplomat told TIME, that “a successful bid for the games would bring an unprecedented – and in some cases very harsh – spotlight” on China and how it is governed. On the other side, everyone from human rights activists to independence seeking dissidents in Tibet and Xinjiang – “splittists” in the Chinese vernacular – knew they would have an opportunity to push their agendas while the world was watching. “Thought the specific trigger for this in Tibet is still unclear, that it intensified so quickly is probably not just an accident,” the senior diplomat says.
According to this view, it was never hard to imagine a scenario in which some group – and maybe several – would push things, try “to probe and see whether they could test limits.” The critical issue, now front and center, diplomats say, is just how far angry Tibetan activists will push – and how harshly the Chinese government will push back.