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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

The three monkeys policy

March 20, 2008

The west worries too much about the Chinese government's economic power
and not enough about its political illegitimacy

Simon Tisdall
The Guardian
March 18, 2008

China's anger and embarrassment over the Tibet protests is keenly felt
and will not be easily assuaged. Its sense of betrayal is as striking as
its inability to comprehend the cause of it. But Beijing's shame is
widely shared. The unrest has confronted western governments with
inconvenient truths to which they plainly have no answers.

In the short term, the 2008 Olympics hosts know they must act cautiously
as the world watches, its running shoes in hand. Having been forced
belatedly to acknowledge the scale of the trouble, Beijing cannot afford
an even wider, more brutal public crackdown, its instinctive reaction to
similar situations in the past.

State retaliation in the weeks and months ahead is likely to be stealthy
and silent. For those who dared make a stand, vengeance will come by
night, in an unmarked car or an unheralded knock on the door. This is
typically how China deals with dissent, as Hu Jia, a prominent human
rights activist who went on trail for subversion today could testify.

Yet in blaming the Dalai Lama and his "clique" for organising a
conspiracy of sabotage, China's premier, Wen Jiaboa, missed the mark.
Tibet's exiled spiritual leader has long promoted an autonomous
accommodation with, not independence from, China. It is younger
generations of Tibetans, inside and outside the country, who
increasingly call the shots and pursue more robust tactics.

An editorial in the Communist party mouthpiece, the Tibet Daily,
appeared to acknowledge this shift - while revealing the true extent of
Chinese fury.

"These lawless elements have insulted, beaten, and wounded duty
personnel, shouted reactionary slogans, stormed vital departments, and
gone to all lengths in beating, smashing, looting, and burning," it
said. "Their atrocities are appalling and too horrible to look at and
their frenzy is inhuman. Their atrocities of various kinds teach and
alert us to the fact that this is a life-and-death struggle between the
enemy and ourselves."

This official "us versus them" view implies there will be no quick end
to the disturbances or the retaliation. Horrific photographs released
today by the Free Tibet campaign of 13 people allegedly killed at Kirtii
monastery in Aba (Ngawa) town, Sichuan province, by Chinese security
forces will meanwhile stoke opposition fires.

The next flashpoint could be Beijing's plan to relay the Olympic torch
through Lhasa and other ethnic Tibetan areas, on its journey from Greece
to Beijing. Another so-called Chinese "renegade province", Taiwan, has
already refused to take part; Tibet was not given a choice.

The broader prospect now, unnerving for a Chinese leadership that has
staked so much on a showpiece, self-validating games, is of trouble
continuing right through until August.

This is a worrying prospect for western leaders, too. Gordon Brown must
decide soon whether he will meet the Dalai Lama when he visits Britain
in May. If he does so, it will enrage Beijing, even more than the German
Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent meeting with the Tibetan leader. All
Brown's commercial and business networking during his China trip earlier
this year could be undone.

The foreign secretary, David Miliband, tied himself up in knots when
asked about a possible meeting, refusing to say whether the government
would welcome it while insisting that the issue would be dealt with "in
a very straightforward and appropriate way". It's a safe bet that London
hopes the Dali Lama won't come after all.

Brown's decision to attend the Olympics opening ceremony, not normally
an essential requirement despite the expected presence of George Bush,
is also beginning to look like a big potential embarrassment. Steven
Spielberg and Mia Farrow, attacking China over Darfur, triggered the
first round of pre-Olympic, anti-Beijing media frenzy. Tibet is round
two. There are more bouts, and many more similar issues, in the
pipeline, waiting to trip up an accident-prone prime minister.

Hans-Gert Pöttering, president of the European parliament, yesterday
urged politicians to reconsider going to Beijing if violence and
repression in Tibet continued. Such calls are likely to become more voluble.

Nearly all western governments have found themselves in the same leaky
boat this week, calling meekly for more information, restraint and
dialogue in Tibet and knowing their advice will be ignored. All insist a
boycott of the games is not contemplated. All worry too much about the
Chinese government's economic power and not enough about its basic
political illegitimacy.

All now face a growing body of international and domestic public opinion
that is increasingly questioning what has been dubbed their pre-Olympics
"three monkeys policy".

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil may have worked in 1904, when a
power-grabbing British expeditionary force butchered thousands of
Tibetans without a second thought. But in the present-day
interconnected, globalised world that Brown and Miliband talk about and
China perforce inhabits, that dog won't hunt.
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