Is Prince Charles planning to boycott the Chinese Olympics?
That’s been the big media story this week, but the precise details of the episode remain unclear. Here’s what we know.
On January 28, the Daily Telegraph, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, published a lead story with the headline “Prince Charles’ Olympic-sized snub to China.” The article began by declaring that the Prince “has snubbed the Chinese government by refusing to attend the Olympic Games in Beijing this summer.”
As background, they noted that Charles has a history of voicing support for the Dali Lama, hosting Tibetan political dissidents, and expressing disgust over the 1997 “handover” of Hong Kong. Such views made him understandably unpopular in China, but the Chinese government was determined to set things right, according to the Telegraph:
[Charles’] reputation as China’s leading critic in the British Establishment was what encouraged Fu Ying, the country’s most senior woman diplomat, to single him out for attention when she took up her appointment as ambassador to Britain last year.
According to the piece, Ms. Fu “had made it her personal mission to encourage him to go” to the 2008 games.
This lobbying effort in turn alarmed the British-based Campaign for a Free Tibet activist group. According to a statement, once they learned of Ambassador Fu’s lobbying initiative:
We wrote to Clarence House before Christmas, seeking confirmation that Prince Charles would not be attending the Olympics. We received a reply in which the Prince’s close interest in Tibet was restated and were told he would not be attending the Beijing Olympics.
The letter in question reads as follows:
As you know, His Royal Highness has long taken a close interest in Tibet and indeed has been pleased to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama on several occasions.
You asked if the Prince of Wales would be attending the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. His Royal Highness will not be attending the ceremony.
Upon receiving all this information, the Daily Telegraph put two-and-two together, and concluded that since the Prince was making a firm commitment to not attend the Olympics, his decision was a politically-motivated “snub” aimed at rejecting the advances of the Chinese government.
But as Telegraph story began to circulate across the globe and the internet, someone at the Prince’s office clearly got quite nervous. Later that same day the office of the Prince of Wales released the following statement:
It has been reported in a British newspaper that The Prince of Wales has “snubbed” China by declining an invitation to attend the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008.
Clarence House pointed out that The Prince of Wales had not been invited to attend the Games, and also explained that His Royal Highness has only ever attended the Olympics once, which was to Montreal in July 1976 to watch his sister The Princess Royal compete for Great Britain in Olympic Games equestrian events.
This strikes me as a defense based on a technicality. Whether or not Charles was formally “invited” to go to the games is somewhat irrelevant—being “invited” can mean a lot of things, and if Telegraph is to be believed there was clearly a Chinese effort afoot to persuade him to attend. The bigger issue is whether or not Charles wants to go in the first place, and what his personal opinions on the games are in general. Neither of these questions are addressed by the press release, or indeed, even his original letter to the Free Tibet people, for that matter.
So what’s the conclusion?
From what I can tell, poor Charles is once again a victim of circumstance. The Prince is a remarkably progressive-minded man who is deeply interested in a whole host of political causes, most notably environmentalism, human rights, and inter-faith relations. Yet because he is a member of the royal family, his political views have to be awkwardly suppressed, and to this day most of what we know of his politics comes from gossip and secret sources, rather than his own mouth.
It’s really quite sad that Charles will never be able to frankly and unequivocally declare his feelings on the Chinese Olympics or the Chinese Communist Party, two matters that clearly mean a great deal to him. But the British Government is in favor of the Olympics in particular and People’s Republic in general, thus making it highly taboo (if not outright unconstitutional) for the royal family to contradict official government policy through any words or actions. So Charles remains muzzled and unhappy. I’m not sure who is exactly better off from this arrangement.
Charles’s under-the-radar political activism continues to highlight just how forced and unnatural the British monarchy’s supposed “apolitical” character really is. The only real difference between Prince Charles and Gordon Brown is that Brown is allowed to tell the public his opinions, while Charles is forced to lie, and pretend that he has none.