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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."

The Case For Tibet

May 15, 2008

By Bill Weinberg
May 14, 2008

With the crisis in Tibet, the left in the U.S. finds itself once
again at risk of losing precious moral credibility with the American
people by apologizing for atrocities. If "Free Tibet" has become an
unthinking bandwagon for many, so too has a kneejerk reaction from
sectors of the radical left against the Tibetan struggle.

Over the past two months since the March 10th uprising, the Chinese
security forces have carried out sweeps and "disappearances,"
occupied monasteries and villages, and opened fire on unarmed
protesters. When such actions are carried out by U.S. allies such as
Israel or Colombia -- or in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan -- we don't
have to ask ourselves who's side we are on. Like the Palestinians,
the Tibetans have been pushed into exile, denied self-government in
their homeland, and overwhelmed with settlers sent by the occupying
power. We have a greater responsibility of solidarity to the
Palestinians, because our government funds their oppression. But the
fact that U.S. imperialism is attempting to exploit their struggle
does not mean we have no responsibilities to the Tibetans.

Tibet will especially need solidarity from anti-imperialists in the
West if it is to avoid becoming a pawn in the Great Game for control
of Asia. The U.S. exploits the Tibetan movement for moral leverage
against China (which has as its ultimate aims market penetration and
military domestication, not Tibetan freedom), but is not going to
risk a complete break with Beijing by supporting Tibet to the
ultimate consequences. The CIA backed a small Tibetan insurgency in
the '50s -- then did nothing as it was brutally crushed. The worst of
the repression was in 1956 -- the same year the Hungarian workers
learned a similarly bitter lesson. The Iraqi Kurds would also learn
it in the aftermath of Desert Storm.

Today, the National Endowment for Democracy provides funds for
Tibetan human-rights groups in exile, and the Dalai Lama has met with
Bush and received the Congressional Medal of Honor. It pains us to
see the Dalai Lama cozying up to Washington -- just as it should pain
us to see Evo Morales and Hugo Chávez cozying up to Beijing. However,
there are reasons behind such alliances. Bolivia and Venezuela need a
non-U.S. market for their hydrocarbons if they are to break free of
the U.S. orbit. The Tibetans perceive that they need powerful allies
if they are to recover their homeland and right of
self-determination. Leftist betrayal of the Tibetan struggle will
only entrench whatever illusions the Tibetan exile leadership harbor
about U.S. intentions.

The Dalai Lama is not demanding independence for Tibet. He wants
autonomy for Tibet within a unified People's Republic of China. His
demand is essentially the same as that of the Zapatistas, who demand
local Maya autonomy within Mexico. He calls for coexistence with Han
Chinese. Hardliners in the exile community in India -- especially in
the Tibetan Youth Congress -- are rapidly losing patience with such
tolerant positions, as Beijing remains intransigent. Again, a
betrayal of Tibetan solidarity by progressives in the West will only
validate the hardline stance.

We must also realize that the U.S.-China tensions are about imperial
rivalry only (and especially the scramble for Africa's oil) -- not
ideology. China is not communist in anything other than name. Some of
the most savage capitalism on earth prevails in the so-called
"People's Republic." The lands of peasants are expropriated in sleazy
deals for industrial projects and the vulgar mansions of the nouveau
riche -- leading to a wave of harsh repression against peasant
communities over the past few years. Especially in the industrial
heartland around Fujian, peasants have taken up farm implements
against police in militant protests over the enclosure and pollution
of their village lands. The state has struck back with sweeps,
"disappearances" and programs of forced sterilization -- the same
tactics U.S. client states use in Latin America. In "illegal"
factories -- which do not exist on paper but are encouraged by
corrupt authorities -- workers don't even have the minimum social
security or wages, and labor in virtual servitude. Shantytowns have
sprung up around the industrial cities of the northeast. The fruits
of this hyper-exploitation are sold to U.S. consumers at WalMart.

Despite the recent tensions, the Beijing bureaucracy has embraced the
methods and ideology of the U.S. "war on terror," and joined
Washington in demonizing the Uighur self-determination struggle in
China's far western Xinjiang province, known to the Muslim Uighurs as
East Turkestan. The U.S. added the East Turkestan Islamic Movement to
the "Foreign Terrorist Organizations" list in a bid to win China's
connivance with military action against Iraq at the UN in 2002. In
March of this year, with the world's eyes on Tibet, China also put
down a wave of Uighur protests in Xinjiang -- while the U.S. holds
Uighur militants at Guantanamo.

Whatever we thought about Chinese communism, it is long gone. Mao is
being de-emphasized in the school textbooks -- and he is chiefly
celebrated for giving China the nuclear bomb, not for leading a
peasants' revolution. The Beijing bureaucracy may rule in the name of
a Chinese Communist Party, but it arguably has more in common with
Pinochet's model than Mao's. If under Mao, Han chauvinism was linked
to an ultra-left ideology, today it is linked to ultra-capitalism.
Tibet is turned into a Disney-fied Tibetland for the international
tourism trade -- even as journalists are barred, and the inhabitants
are relocated into government-controlled (and Orwellianly-named)
"socialist villages."

A March 18th AP shot by photographer Ng Han Guan said it all: Wen
Jiabao's giant face spews forth anti-Tibet invective from a screen
overlooking a Beijing mall-directly above a McDonald's golden-arches symbol.

Tibet could explode again during the Beijing Olympics, and
progressives in the West will have to determine whose side they are
on. It is important that we not be drawn into an ethnic
divide-and-conquer strategy. One reason China's rulers are so
intransigent on Tibet could be the potential for an alliance between
the Tibetans and Han Chinese workers and peasants against the Beijing

Indigenous peoples around the world instinctively understand the
Tibetan struggle. They see in Tibet their own struggles for recovery
of land and autonomy. When Chilean president Michelle Bachelet
opposed a measure by her congress in support of Tibet, a solidarity
website for Chile's Mapuche people commented: "The government of
Bachelet … know that they have their own Mapcuhe Tibet." First
Nations leaders in Canada have threatened to launch a Tibet-style
protest campaign around the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. "We find the
Tibetan situation compelling," said Phil Fontaine, chief of Canada's
Assembly of First Nations.

If we are going to speak up on these and other such struggles in our
own hemisphere, tactical considerations as well as moral imperatives
demand that we not remain silent now about Tibet -- or loan comfort
to its oppressors and occupiers.

Bill Weinberg is editor of the electronic monthly World War 3 Report
and author of "Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in
Mexico" (Verso, 2000).
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