Join our Mailing List

"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Passage to Tibet made difficult

April 10, 2008

By Roger Cohen
The Deccan Chronicle
Wednesday April 9 2008

Ubud, Indonesia: Remember how we had to learn about the Shias, the
Sunnis, the Kurds and all the smaller agents of Iraqi fragmentation?
Over the next four months, until the Beijing Olympics open, the world is
going to get a crash course in China’s various ethnic and religious
minority groups and their resentments.

Violent stirrings in Tibet are just the beginning. With the world as
stage, the Uighur Muslims of the northwestern Xinjiang region, the
outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement, Mongols and Kazakhs and whoever
else wants his moment in the sun will have a dream opportunity to rail.

I hope violence is contained, and the Chinese authorities show
flexibility, but I’m not optimistic.

If a Tibetan monk grabs the Olympic torch in San Francisco and immolates
himself, nobody should be astonished. And if the 19th anniversary on
June 4 of the Tiananmen Square crackdown passes quietly, everyone should
be surprised.

Playing in the major leagues is no breeze. That’s where China is after
the remarkable transformation that led to the hosting of the Olympics.
No talk of "peaceful rise," "harmony," "multilateralism" ­ self-effacing
Chinese buzzwords all ­ can hide that a global power must make tough
calls, decide what it represents, and be judged. China can no longer
pretend to be the unobtrusive power par excellence, in contrast to
American intrusiveness. In Burma and beyond, that just won’t wash.
President George W. Bush has called President Hu Jintao twice since the
Tibetan troubles began to urge him to reach out to the Dalai Lama, stop
vilifying him, establish a dialogue, and open Tibet to foreign journalists.

But Christopher Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia,
who advised the President on these calls, told me Bush’s laudable pleas
had fallen on deaf ears. "I don’t really expect anything good over the
next few months," he said.

Hu, who crushed protests in Tibet as party chief there in 1989, typifies
the national consensus that China has delivered Tibetans from feudalism,
ushering them toward modernity with infrastructure and investment.

Tibet, in this view, should be grateful, and the region’s obstinate
"splittists" crushed.

At the Williamsburg Conference here, an annual high-level get-together
on Asian themes, I did not hear one word from Chinese delegates that
deviated from the view that outside agitators have stirred up the Tibet
protests, that foreign media are mendacious or malevolent, that lectures
on human rights are unacceptable, and that no government can tolerate a
separatist movement.

In short, I heard the typical conspiracy theories of any one-party state
unable to reach beyond the logic dictated by its own need for control.

"There was an order for disruption," said Wu Jianmin, the President of
the China Foreign Affairs University. "But it would be a terrible
mistake to politicise the Olympics. Everyone will be hurt. The people of
Tibet were serfs and have made huge progress."

I don’t dispute the feudal aspects of Tibetan society. I’d be surprised
if there were not seditious plans hatched outside Tibet. But the Chinese
authorities need to face some greater truths.

These include the facts that a half-century of repression has not
worked; that the Dalai Lama is the most moderate Tibetan interlocutor
they will find; that he has called for autonomy but not independence;
and that he is a revered global figure.

Rather than decry foreign plots, China should also recognise that the
mass arrival of Han Chinese has fed legitimate Tibetan fears of cultural
extinction, and that a stop-go approach to allowing foreign journalists
into Tibet is ham-fisted. For a long time the core question about China
has been whether a dictatorship with an open market economy can resist
its internal contradictions
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank