WHEN China was awarded the 2008 Olympic Games, two consequences were virtually guaranteed. The first was that the Chinese government would try to use the occasion to show off its status as an emerging modern superpower.

The second was that the games would become a focus for protests over China's attitude towards human rights, especially its continuing oppression of the people of Tibet.

This week, Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office hit out at China's "violations" in Tibet and called for it to engage in talks with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetans' exiled spiritual and political leader.

And amid growing clamour for Western democracies to act, French president Nicholas Sarkozy hinted that he might boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

Events are being watched by members of Dorset's Buddhist community, which includes a few Tibetans. But Vedant White, spokesman for the Sakya Thubten Ling Tibetan Buddhist Centre in Bournemouth, said views were divided over the best course to take.

"The Tibetans themselves argue about it," he said. "I personally agree with the Dalai Lama, that the Olympic Games shouldn't be boycotted, but that countries should attend and voice their opinions about the harshness of the Chinese regime while they are there.

"Tibet has been totally over-run and the Tibetans are now in the minority. China, like everywhere else, is subject to change. They have raised the standard of living for millions, but in the process have become much more in the free enterprise mode.

"Most of the hardliners are all the old guard, who will be dead in 20 years. Friends who work in language schools have noticed that since Tiananmen Square, the younger people are much more liberal in their approach. I think China will soften naturally.

"The Chinese are being subjected to pressure, so perhaps there will be dialogue. The Dalai Lama is the one to speak to them. There's no way China will give up Tibet - it's rich in mineral resources - but they might compromise a bit by allowing the Dalai Lama to return."

Mr White said many members of the centre planned to go to London on April 6 - the day the Olympic flame is brought to London as part of a global torch relay. Tibetan exiles and sympathisers will be converging on the capital from all over the UK to take part in demonstrations and an official rally with an alternative "freedom torch" in Argyle Square.

A spokesman for the organisation Free Tibet said: "There's been a huge volume of interest in what's going on, which is both a good thing for our campaign and very dangerous for the Tibetan people in Tibet. China has banned the media from being there, so there's no way of telling what's going on.

"We're not supporting a boycott of the games directly, but if the situation worsens, it might be something we would consider. The best thing people can do is write to their MPs."

Former international sportsman Derek Vaines, 71, of Bournemouth, who represented his country at judo, said: "Athletes shouldn't go to China. Its human rights record is deplorable. All China is going to do with the Olympic Games is wave its own flag and proffer its own position.

"If I was in my twenties and competing at an international level, I certainly wouldn't be entertaining going on any sort of game-playing exercise in Beijing."

Mr Vaines urged other people to join his boycott of products made by Coca-Cola, which is sponsoring the Olympic torch.