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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China's view of Tibet

April 27, 2008

Western leaders' grandstanding ignores both history and the
situation on the ground.

By Kishore Mahbubani
The Los Angeles Times
April 25, 2008

News reports of protests targeting the Beijing Olympics torch relay --
first in France, then the U.S. and now Australia -- are surely happily
consumed by Westerners who assume supporting a free Tibet is a just
cause. What could be more moral than helping a weak people gain
independence from an oppressive Chinese government?

The West paints the tale of Tibet in black and white: The politicians
and activists in Europe and America are only trying to protect the human
rights of the innocent Tibetans, who were invaded not so long ago by the
communist Chinese. So when, for instance, European leaders -- so far,
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek -- decide to skip the Olympics'
opening ceremonies, they appear to be simply responding to a deep moral
urge. Solidarity with the oppressed has been a hallmark of the West,
although no Western country actually challenges China's sovereignty over

Try stepping into the Chinese minds to understand how different the same
events look. Chinese history records dominion over Tibet as far back as
the 13th century. China's control has ebbed and flowed -- but this is
equally true in many other parts of China. Central control by the
capital has never been consistent, shifting with the strength of the
central government. But this much is certain: China has been in control
of most of its territories longer than some Western nations have existed.

More important, the Chinese recall that the latest efforts to separate
Tibet from China came as recently as the 1940s and 1950s, when British
and U.S. agents were seen to be encouraging Tibetan independence while
the new People's Republic was still weak. The Chinese also have powerful
memories of Britain's central role in the notorious opium trade of the
18th and 19th centuries, when European trading companies sold the drug
to smugglers, then used the ill-gotten gold to buy silk, tea and porcelain.

The related Opium Wars, during which Hong Kong was seized by Britain,
are a distant memory in Western minds but remain in the forefront of the
Chinese psyche. When the West is seen to be trying to detach Chinese
territory again, it rubs salt into this still-fresh wound. Virtually no
Chinese believe that Western governments have a strictly moral interest
in Tibet. They are convinced that their efforts are only the latest
efforts to dismember or derail China.

Is Chinese cynicism concerning Western human rights campaigns justified?
The West, led by President Nixon and his secretary of State, Henry
Kissinger, first fell in love with China when the country was barely
recovered from the Cultural Revolution, but one of the worst chapters in
the history of human rights went without mention. By contrast, in the
1990s, when the Chinese people were experiencing the best quality of
life they'd had in centuries, the West focused incessantly on the 1989
Tiananmen Square demonstrations and other evidence of China's human
rights deficiencies. It's Western internal interests, not conditions in
China, that clearly drive attitudes.

The lions of human rights, particularly in European capitals, behave
like poodles in Beijing. Virtually all of them spend their time trying
to sell products to China. Then, in passing, they will whisper that they
have to mention human rights issues because when they return home they
have to say that these issues were raised. That sends an unmistakable
message: This is a Western ritual; please do not pay too much attention
to it. Given this record, it is not surprising that Chinese leaders have
little respect for European leaders when they make grand gestures on
human rights in front of their domestic audiences.

The tragedy is that any victims of such moral posturing will be
Tibetans, who will suffer the most if a virulent new Chinese nationalism
is created in response.

So far, even though Beijing's record of rule over Tibet is less than
perfect, China's leaders have tried to preserve autonomy for Tibet.
Indeed, in theory there is no fundamental disagreement between the
position of the exiled Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhists' foremost spiritual
leader, and that of the Chinese government. The Dalai Lama advocates
autonomy, not independence; the official Chinese government policy paper
on Tibet says that it "regards exercise of regional ethnic autonomy in
areas where ethnic communities live in compact communities as a basic
policy for solving the ethnic issue."

Given this, the West should try to narrow, not widen, the gulf between
the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government. But that is the work of quiet
diplomacy, not grandstanding.

Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at
the National University of Singapore, wrote "The New Asian Hemisphere:
The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East."
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