I appreciate Councillor Zeidler’s comments that a “China-Tibet conversation is worth having in Whistler” (Pique May 1, 2008). In fact I will be participating in a day-long session at UBC’s Centre for Chinese Research next week on Olympic Tensions: Roundtable on Tibet. From that session we plan to have a follow up one in Whistler.
This conversation needs to go far beyond Free Tibet slogans and ceremonial boycotts.
I have just returned from my second visit to Yunnan province in southwest China with its growing tourism economy and more than 20 different ethnic and religious minorities. The Tibet Autonomous Region is to the north. Throughout the region there are four different Tibetan communities and surprisingly not all Tibetans have a united view of historical events. Like Whistler, I experienced many small, diverse communities with goals of developing tourism offerings and jobs while balancing ecological and cultural values. In the Diqing Prefecture, rising as it does from three river valleys up to the high Tibetan plateau, I was amazed by the parks, the hiking, the hotels, the food, the new ski park, as well as the diverse cultural and religious vitality.
The recent troubles have caused a significant decline in tourism in the region. We in Whistler know how precarious the tourism market is and how resilient we need to be in the face of forces beyond our control. Part of the conversation needs to engage our best thinking on international norms regarding tourism and sustainability, so that innocent workers and entrepreneurs are not the first to suffer when these outside forces hit.
It could be that boycotting the opening ceremonies would highlight the claims of some of those in the Tibetan diaspora. Even here though, a conversation would be helpful to know if we should listen to the Dalai Lama, who does not want a boycott, or to his more extreme followers headquartered in Washington who do. Some argue that a boycott of our 2010 Games would assist in highlighting First Nations claims in Canada as it did for the Lubicon-Cree during Calgary ’88. And is Councillor Zeidler proposing a boycott of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi Russia if the Chechnyans are not given their full independence from Moscow?
Through the Forum’s Leadership Sea to Sky program we plan to more fully engage in these and other conversations by having two days at the Canada/B.C. Pavilion in Beijing at the start of the Paralympic Games. On Sept. 8 and 9 we will have multiple conversations with Chinese and international visitors to the pavilion about the lessons and leadership we have experienced in tourism and recreation accessibility, and in environmental protection and sustainable tourism planning and development. And we look forward to learning from them.