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The freedom to talk

December 15, 2008

Taipei Times
Sunday, Dec 14, 2008
“Opportunistic, rash and shortsighted” — this is what the Beijing government has branded the meeting between the Dalai Lama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. But the words more aptly describe Beijing’s tactics.
The recent demand by Beijing that Sarkozy not meet with the Dalai Lama was ridiculous and, thankfully, ignored. The very fact that the demand was made at all illustrates the naivete and pompous attitude of the Chinese government in its attempt to push the political agenda outside its own country.
Politics is often complicated but meeting freely and communicating is a basic human right that should be vigilantly guarded at all costs.
Governments such as those in North Korea and Myanmar suppress the right of people to assemble and communicate their views to one another, and are seen as backward regimes. It is surprising that China, for all its celebrated progress, would continue to use such tactics to thwart personal communication.
It is particularly alarming that China would even attempt to make demands on two people living outside its own borders.
Sarkozy could not have afforded to kowtow to these unreasonable demands; the implications were too terrible to imagine. It would call into question his integrity as a leader who places basic human freedoms before politics.
Let’s look at what China accomplished. It received a black eye in the international arena. After putting its best foot forward in this year’s Olympics, Beijing has tarnished its progressive image by playing the bully and storming out of an EU summit.
China’s claim that the Sarkozy meeting with the Dalai Lama hurt the feelings of the Chinese people is downright silly — and talk of boycotts on French products only serves to illustrate this point.
Sarkozy was right to assert that he was “free to talk to whoever he wants.” We all should be: It is a matter of values, convictions and, above all, freedom.
Paul Oliver
Zuoying, Kaohsiung City
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