Singapore Says Olympic Torch Relay Protests Will Have Lifetime Consequences

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has warned that the outrage in China, especially among the young, over the displays of contempt for China and things Chinese will have consequences well beyond the Beijing Olympic Games.

Mr Lee noted that the Chinese anger can be read on the flooded Internet bulletin boards, all carrying strong anti-foreign sentiments.

He was speaking at a conference on “The Politics of Knowledge”, organised by the London School of Economics and Political Science and Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies on Friday, against the backdrop of the massive anti-China protests that have dogged the Beijing Olympic torch’s run in London, Paris and San Francisco.

Mr Lee said with the advent of satellite TV and the Internet, the world is now everyone’s stage, and the Olympic torch relay – which was China’s “coming out party” – has also become the golden opportunity for opponents to make their point.

“So, as the torch travels the world, it has faced challenges at virtually every stop so far. Vivid TV images of demon῭strators waving banners, scuffling with police, and making concerted assaults to snuff out the flame are beamed live around the world, achieving an asymmetrical prominence, and so influencing public opinion against China and the Games,” he said.

Prime Minister Lee believes that no protesting group truly expects their public display of outrage at China’s treatment of Tibetans or ethnic Han dissidents will change China’s policy.

He feels this issue affects core security concerns, and the protesters know that no government can give ground on any core issue under such public duress, whatever the merit of the argument.

And whatever the intentions of the demonstrators, the people of China believe the protesters want to inflict maximum humiliation on China and the Chinese people more than the Chinese government.

“The outrage in China, especially among the young, can be read on the flooded Internet bulletin boards, all carrying virulent anti-foreign sentiments. Pity they are in unintelligible Chinese ideographs. Were they in the English language, young Americans and Europeans would realise that these displays of contempt for China and things Chinese will have consequences in their lifetime, well beyond the Olympic Games,” said PM Lee.

“In this new environment of raw, unprocessed information with instant worldwide impact, it will not be easy to keep the public debate on a high plane, especially on controversial issues where emotions rather than reason prevail. This will change the texture of societies everywhere. Societies will have to adapt and evolve defensive mechanisms and habits to thrive in these new circumstances,” he added.

Mr Lee went on to say that instant information through satellite TV and the Internet may have great economic benefit, but has also caused people to respond to unfiltered, raw information or misinformation without the benefit of informed interpretation.

“The online film ‘Fitna’ which has offended Muslims worldwide is just the latest example of wrong-headedness, asserting the right to freedom of expression in democratic Holland while overlooking the costs, namely the stoking of hatred between devout Muslims and Christians,” he said.

Mr Lee stressed that societies will need to adapt and build defence mechanisms to cope with these new circumstances. – CNA/ir/ac

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Channel News Asia

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