Updated at 6:53 a.m., Thursday, April 26, 2007
Olympic torch route revealed, but Taiwan backs out
By Stephen Wade
Within hours of Beijing's announcement of what would be the longest torch relay in Olympic history a 137,000-kilometer (85,000-mile), 130-day route that would cross five continents and scale Mount Everest Taiwan rejected being included.
"It is something that the government and people cannot accept," Tsai Chen-wei, the head of Taiwan's Olympic Committee, said in the Taiwanese capital, Taipei.
The episode underscores the deep mistrust between Beijing and Taipei, antagonists in an unresolved civil war, and how entwined the Olympics become with politics.
Aside from Taiwan, the torch is also supposed to pass through another political hotspot, the Himalayan region of Tibet which China has controlled for 57 years, often with heavy-handed rule. Four American activists were detained by Chinese authorities Wednesday on Mount Everest after they unfurled a banner calling for Tibet's independence.
The controversies dimmed the gloss on Beijing's long-awaited announcement of the torch route.
At a nationally televised ceremony attended by senior members of China's ruling Communist Party and the International Olympic Committee, organizers unveiled the torch and showed a video laying out the proposed route.
"It will be a relay that will cover the longest distance and be most inclusive and involve the most people in Olympic history," said Liu Qi, the head of Beijing's Olympic organizing committee.
The relay, which is supposed to embody the Olympic values of friendship through sports, is a popular public-relations tool and the only contact most people have with the Olympics.
As with all Olympics, next year's relay will begin in Greece, go to Beijing, and then wind across Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa and then back to Asia and China before the torch ignites the cauldron at the opening ceremony on Aug. 8, 2008, in Beijing's 91,000-seat National Stadium.
Other stops announced Thursday include Paris; San Francisco; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania; Islamabad, Pakistan; and Pyongyang, the capital of politically isolated and belligerent North Korea.
"The Beijing 2008 torch relay will, as its theme says, be a journey of harmony, bringing friendship and respect to people of different nationalities, races and creeds," IOC President Jacques Rogge told the ceremony.
Nevertheless, both Beijing and Taiwan hoped to use the torch relay to bolster political agendas: for Beijing, that Taiwan is part of Chinese territory, and for Taiwan that it is independent.
To that end, Taiwan wanted to participate as part of the international route _ with the torch entering and departing the island via nations other than China. China would like the island run to be part of the domestic route.
In an attempt at compromise that Beijing said Taiwan had agreed to, Olympic organizers said the torch would pass from Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City to Taipei, Taiwan's capital, and then to Hong Kong, which is Chinese-controlled but semiautonomous.
"I sincerely hope that Taiwan compatriots can enjoy the glories and joy of the torch relay," Jiang Xiaoyu, a vice president of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, told reporters.
In dueling statements in the two capitals, Jiang said Taiwan's Olympic Committee had earlier signed off on the route while Taiwan's Tsai rejected the notion.
"This route is a domestic route that constitutes an attempt to downgrade our sovereignty," Tsai said.
IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies declined comment for the time being because of the political nature of the controversy.
The relay's signature moment is expected to be its ascent to the summit of Mount Everest, which straddles Nepal and Chinese-ruled Tibet.
The International Olympic Committee, which shies away from controversy, was drawn into torch-relay politics after the three Americans and a Tibetan-American were detained on Everest. They waved a banner reading: "One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008." Another one in English and Chinese read: "Free Tibet."
Earlier Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said politics should be kept out of the games, and that Beijing had the support of the country and of people around the world.
"Most of China's citizens are looking forward and making preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Most people in the world are looking forward to a successful Olympic Games that can promote the friendship of people around the world," he told a news conference.