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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Send a message to China

April 3, 2008

The Seattle Times
Wednesday, April 2, 2008


The president is keeping a very low profile on Tibet as the crackdown on
Tibetan demonstrators continues.

No wonder. China has allowed George W. Bush to make war in Iraq without
new taxes.

The U.S. government is hostage to China's central bank. In addition to
$388 billion in U.S. Treasury securities, China, according to
Congressional Research Service, holds another $310 billion of American
public and corporate securities.

Don't sass your banker unless you can pay off the loan.

But the rest of us are not similarly constrained.

We can make our point where it counts: nonviolently, where we shop.
Almost everything made in China can be or is being made elsewhere:
sometimes, even, in nations that allow free speech and press and respect
ethnic minorities.

Remember that old jingle, "Look for the union label"? Well, look for the
"Made in China" label if you really want to send a message that Beijing
will understand.

Tibet is a more than nasty annoyance for the Chinese, who want to
impress the world with their economic advances as they host the Summer
Olympics. Economic progress also makes up a large part of the Chinese
rationale for dominating Tibet, and on a macro level there has been
progress there and throughout China.

But China's explosive economic growth has also spawned corruption and
widened the gap between rich and poor, says China scholar Chris McNally
of the East-West Center, and "a growing malaise" could prompt
demonstrations at the Olympics. Protests leading to the 1989 Tiananmen
Square violence began in Tibet. The Square, a Beijing landmark, has
recently been declared off-limits for live television reports from the
Olympics.

In the eyes of most Tibetans, China's economic gains don't justify the
loss of Tibet's cultural identity and independence. Much of Tibet's
economic gains, in any event, have not flowed to native Tibetans but
rather to Han Chinese immigrants, encouraged to move to Tibet and
establish businesses and services.

With thousands of Chinese troops to keep order, these industrious
incomers now dominate the Tibetan scene, leaving locals in a position of
economic dependence in their own land. Buddhism, the foundation of
Tibetan society for centuries, is scorned by nonbelieving Chinese
immigrants.

Lhasa, says Pico Iyer in Time, has become "an Eastern Las Vegas, with a
population of 300,000 (two-thirds of them Chinese). On the main streets
alone, by one Western scholar's count, there are 238 dance halls and
karaoke parlors and 658 brothels, and the Potala Palace (home of nine
Dalai Lamas) ... is now mockingly surrounded by an amusement park."

What we have in Tibet, in short, is an occupation. And occupations, as
we are learning in Iraq, will be resisted and the resistance will be
deep-seated and long-lasting. An occupation occurs when an outside force
establishes effective control of an indigenous society, militarily
and/or economically, and settles its own people in the midst of those
who have lived there for hundreds of years.

That is the case in Tibet. Tibetans did not ask for Chinese military
controls, economic domination and permanent settlements. Despite the
futility of battling the Chinese armed forces, Tibetan resistance will
continue.

We are reminded, certainly by the Chinese, that the United States did
the same to Native Americans in the 19th century, and that today we are
seen by many Iraqis as an occupying power.

Occupation is always resisted. Think of the persistent Kurdish
opposition to Saddam Hussein's relocation of Sunni Arabs into Kurdish
territory. Or the 40-year resistance by Palestinians in the West Bank to
Israeli military checkpoints and roads protecting permanent Israeli
settlements.

Much blood has flowed in every single occupation, and will continue to
flow as long as occupying forces and (particularly) settlers are imposed
on an unwilling populace. Occupying armies leave eventually — as we will
from Iraq. But when settlers build homes and open businesses, they stay.
The Han Chinese are not leaving Tibet anytime soon.

Talk of an Olympic boycott is unrealistic and unfair to thousands of
athletes in every nation who have long trained for this event. But world
leaders, including President Bush, are not required to honor the opening
ceremonies.

President Jimmy Carter's decision to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics
followed a more severe provocation, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Actions in Tibet don't rise to that level, and in any case, more
Americans want to watch the Olympics on television than care about Tibet.

But we aren't forced to be silent, in our voices or choices at the mall.

Floyd J. McKay, a journalism professor emeritus at Western Washington
University, is a regular contributor to Times editorial pages. E-mail
him at floydmckay@yahoo.com
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