03/31/2008 11:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Dwindling Flame: Tibet, China & The Olympics

The Olympic flame arrived Monday in Beijing. It burned not gloriously with humanitarian ideals, but sadly under the shadow of shame. It was not fully celebrated by the host city, but hurried along its way with limited participation by the populace. Totalitarian China, so leery of dissent, so ready to crush protest, couldn't even trust its own citizens to celebrate the event. It wasn't that the government was afraid of riots; after all, they know how to send in tanks to deal with student protesters. But free speech might have ruined the stage-perfect moment. The world might have seen a Tibetan grandmother or sympathetic Chinese activist unfurling the Tibetan flag! Couldn't let that happen....

After arriving at the airport, the Olympic torch was rushed along a top-secret route to a somewhat empty Tiananmen Square. There, president Hu Jintao and 5,000 invited guests watched dancers perform and balloons float away in the sky. A banner read: "Transcendence. Integration. Equality."

It should have read: "Control. Suppression. Censorship."

How long can China's dictatorship survive? (It is important to remember that the Chinese people are essentially under house arrest, as are the Tibetans.) And how much time remains before Tibet's people and culture are crushed by the economic control and political oppression of their giant occupier?

During the first half of the 20th century, Tibet was a de facto separate nation. Although China has exercised control over Tibet since 1951 through the use of force, it is an immoral and shameful state of affairs. If the Ukraine, Kosovo and East Timor can have their independence, why not Tibet?

Tibet belongs to the Tibetans, who reject China's authority and seek freedom. Similarly, China doesn't belong to its Communist-party rulers. It belongs to the Chinese.

There will be protests in some form at the Olympics: about Tibet, about the lack of human rights and democracy in China, and about China's policy on Darfur. What will China do? Will they arrest foreign athletes who wave Tibetan flags? Will they confiscate cell phones and shut down the internet? Will they close down CNN's offices in Hong Kong? Will they ban foreign journalists from the games, once "trouble" (free speech) begins?

The Beijing event should be the most politically charged Olympics since Berlin in 1936, and already is inextricably tied to the fate of Tibet.