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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Tibet and the World

May 26, 2008

by Oisín Mac Giollamóir
WSM (personal capacity)
anarkismo.net
May 20 2008, 11:59pm

On March 10th, the 49th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising, 300
monks demonstrated in Lhasa, Tibet, demanding the release of a number
of imprisoned monks. In doing so they marked the beginning of a brief
period of rioting by Tibetans against the rule of China, and the
Chinese Communist Party, over Tibet. These riots were violently
suppressed by the Chinese state.

The riots and their suppression has been widely publicised in the
media and sparked a series of international protests aimed at
undermining the Beijing 2008 Olympics. These protests occurred along
the route of the international Olympic Torch Relay causing the torch
to be extinguished 5 times in France alone.

TIBET AND THE WORLD

On March 10th, the 49th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising, 300
monks demonstrated in Lhasa, Tibet, demanding the release of a number
of imprisoned monks. In doing so they marked the beginning of a brief
period of rioting by Tibetans against the rule of China, and the
Chinese Communist Party, over Tibet. These riots were violently
suppressed by the Chinese state.

The riots and their suppression has been widely publicised in the
media and sparked a series of international protests aimed at
undermining the Beijing 2008 Olympics. These protests occurred along
the route of the international Olympic Torch Relay causing the torch
to be extinguished 5 times in France alone.
What happened in Tibet
Tibet was invaded by China in 1950. For a few years the Dalai Lama,
Tibet's historical theocratic head of state, remained the ruler of a
largely autonomous Tibet. However, after a failed CIA funded uprising
in 1959 the Dalai Lama and his government fled and went into exile.
Since then China and the Chinese Communist Party has ruled Tibet.

In recent years, Tibet's connection with China has greatly increased
with the opening of Tibet's first railway link to the rest of China.
This railway development was bitterly opposed by many Tibetans. But
their opposition was laid to one side as Chinese state officials
ensured them the rail link would lead to low prices for food and
other goods. However, since the opening of the railway, prices across
China, Tibet included, have been rising significantly. The rail link
has also lead to an explosion in immigration to Tibet. Han Chinese,
the ethnic majority in China, now run many of Tibet's shops, small
businesses and tourist facilities. This explosion of Han Chinese
migration to Tibet has been likened by some to the settlements by
Israeli Zionists in the occupied territories of Palestine. It has
also been likened to the expansion of the USA into the Native
American lands of the 'Wild West'. One commentator writes: "Rather
than use sheer military coercion, the Chinese now rely on ethnic and
economic colonization, rapidly transforming Lhasa into a Chinese
version of the capitalist Wild West with karaoke bars intermingled
with the Disney-like "Buddhist theme parks" for Western tourists. In
short, what the media image of the brutal Chinese soldiers and
policemen terrorizing the Buddhist monks conceals is the much more
effective, American-style socioeconomic transformation. In a decade
or two, the Tibetans will be reduced to the status of the Native
Americans in the United States."[1] Tibetans have also complained
that they do not have the same access to jobs and education as the Han Chinese.

Following the monks protest on March 10th many people in Tibet seized
the opportunity to rise on Friday, March 14th. There has been some
speculation that there were two distinct aspects to the rising: on
the one hand the monks, on the other the Tibetan youth of Lhasa. The
Tibetan youth of Lhasa are quite distinct from the Tibetan monks.
George Blume, a German reporter who travelled to Lhasa the day after
the riots started said "I felt that these young people wanted
something else. Like our young people they have headphones in their
ears, they wear jeans, the same jackets, the same shoes. They have
most ardently complained that they do not … get the same education as
the Chinese that the Chinese have more money."[2] However, due to the
Chinese Communist Party's control of information on what happened in
Tibet it is difficult to say how great or small the divide is between
the youth and the monks.

The riots themselves have been described by James Miles of The
Economist magazine, the only foreign journalist in Lhasa at the time
of the riots, as "primarily an eruption of ethnic hatred." [3] He
says he "saw crowds hurling chunks of concrete at the numerous small
shops run by ethnic Chinese lining the streets of the city's old
Tibetan quarter. They threw them too at those Chinese caught on the
streets -- a boy on a bicycle, taxis (whose drivers are often
Chinese) and even a bus. Most Chinese fled the area as quickly as
they could, leaving their shops shuttered." [4] In an interview with
CNN he said "What I saw was calculated targeted violence against an
ethnic group, or I should say two ethnic groups, primarily ethnic Han
Chinese living in Lhasa, but also members of the Muslim Hui minority
in Lhasa. And the Huis in Lhasa control much of the meat industry in
the city. Those two groups were singled out by ethnic Tibetans. They
marked those businesses that they knew to be Tibetan owned with white
traditional scarves. Those businesses were left intact…Almost every
other business was either burned, looted, destroyed, smashed into,
the property therein hauled out into the streets, piled up, burned." [5]

Another eyewitness wrote: "They are throwing stones at anyone who is
Han [Chinese] or from other minorities like the Hui, who are Muslims.
It seems like it's ethnic - like they want to kill anyone not
Tibetan….I saw three people assaulting a man - I was 50 metres away,
but I think he was Chinese. They kicked him and then one man had a
knife and used it. He was lying on the floor and the man put the
knife in his back, like he wanted to see he was dead." [6]

The ethnic violence of this episode is obviously regretful,
disgusting and should be unequivocally opposed by all anarchists.
However, it is worth noting that the movement seems to be a poorly
articulated movement by the Tibetan working class against Chinese
imperialism and colonialism. The motivation behind the violence seems
largely to spring from food price inflation and the inability of the
Tibetan working class to pay for food. Also the movement seems to
have expressed itself against the bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie
in Lhasa, who seem to be composed largely of Han Chinese and Hui Muslim.

WHO DONE IT?

The Chinese government has said that the riots were orchestrated by
the 'Dalai clique' i.e. the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in
exile. They have presented a detailed explanation, with a lot of
evidence, to back this claim up. [7] However, being a
Marxist-Leninist state their information is not exactly trustworthy.

The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile have denied being
behind the unrest. But likewise they're far from being trustworthy.
In a remarkable example of doublethink, one member of the Tibetan
government in exile said of the unrest: "the Tibetan (rioters) has
[sic] been non-violent throughout (the incident). From Tibetans'
perspective, violence means harming life. From the video recordings
you can see that the Tibetans rioters were beating Han Chinese, but
only beating took place. After the beating the Han Chinese were free
to flee. Therefore [there were] only beating, no life was harmed.
Those who were killed were all results of accidents." [8]

Others, such as Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez, have claimed the
rising was orchestrated by the USA. He argues: "the (U.S.)
imperialists want to divide China. And they're causing problems there
in Tibet… We ask the world to support China to neutralize this plan…
You see the images of the violence in Tibet. Who is that against?
Against China. It's the (U.S.) empire that wants to weaken China,
because China is rising up." [9]

While Chavez is obviously wrong that China should be supported and
while it is unlikely that the riots were ordered from Washington, the
USA is to some degree involved. It is clear that, if in no other
fashion, they have been active in the area through the US Congress
funded Free Radio Asia.

Thus far it is far from clear exactly how spontaneous the rioting was
and what involvement the USA and the Tibetan government in exile have
had in its orchestration.

TIBET AND THE WEST

Lhasa is a city of 257,400 people; marginally larger than Cork City.
It's economically and militarily unimportant, in an economically
unimportant area, sitting on top of no major resources, so the
question arises: why has a few days rioting in Lhasa become a major
international incident?

The answer is not because the brutality of the suppression of the
riots is a betrayal of the 'Olympic spirit'. The 'Olympic spirit' has
been betrayed many more times before this. For the 1984 Los Angeles
Olympics thousands of young black men were imprisoned to get them off
the streets in preparation for it. Likewise, in 1996 in preparation
for the Atlanta Olympics ridiculous ordinances were introduced such
as one that made lying down in public illegal in order to get the
poor off the streets. Again in Athens in 2004, hundreds of homeless
people, drug addicts and mentally ill people were locked up to
prepare for the Olympics. However, surely the most shocking example
of Olympic repression was in 1968 in Mexico City when hundreds of
Mexican students and workers occupying the National University were
slaughtered in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas on October 2, 1968, ten
days before the start of the games. [10]

The answer why the Lhasa riots have become an international incident
is also not given by the idea that it is a rising against the power
of the Chinese Communist Party. The truth is that China is a country
wracked by internal political strife. In 2005 alone the Chinese
government recorded over 87,000 incidents of social unrest involving
a hundred or more people. This in a country where opposition to the
government is illegal! However many of these incidents of unrest are
not of the kind the west desires. They are struggles demanding better
wages and better living conditions i.e. they are the same struggles
we endure in the West.

The Lhasa riots have been significant for two interconnected reasons:
the role Tibet plays in the western imagination and the geopolitical
concerns between the West and China.

Tibet in the Western Imagination

The role that Tibet plays in the Western imagination is a
contradictory one. This is clearly demonstrated by the thoughts and
actions of "Colonel Francis Younghusband, who in 1904 led the English
regiment of 1,200 men that reached Lhasa and forced trade agreements
on the Tibetans, He mercilessly ordered the machine gun slaughter of
hundreds of Tibetan soldiers armed only with swords and lances and
thus forced his way to Lhasa. However, this same person experienced
in his last day in Lhasa a true epiphany: "Never again could I think
of evil, or ever again be at enmity with any man. All nature and all
humanity were bathed in a rosy glowing radiancy; and life for the
future seemed nought but buoyancy and light." [11]

For Col. Younghusband Tibet is simultaneously an object to be
incorporated into the west and into western liberal capitalism, at
gun point if needs be, and it is the ethereal on earth. Likewise,
western hopes for Tibet today are that it becomes a neo-liberal
nation-state and a spiritual centre that transcends capitalism, the
market and geopolitics. Tibet is for the west both a political issue
and an apolitical issue. This enables the West in supporting Tibet to
speak for the 'spiritual'. The struggle against "Chinese Communism"
becomes a struggle that is justified by forces outside of politics.
Naked imperialism becomes a struggle over the sacred Other.

It is no surprise then that right wing mysticist groups such as the
Italian fascist Youth Action (Azione Giovani) have taken the issue of
Tibet's liberation as their own raising slogans such as "For the
people of Tibet, Against Communism".

CHINA & GEOPOLITICS

The seemingly apolitical exceptionalism of Tibet is extremely useful
for the west in its relationship with China.

It is no secret that China is rapidly becoming an economic superpower
to rival the USA. It is also exercising more and more political power
on a global scale. The 'genocide' in Darfur and the non intervention
of the west is continuing primarily due to the links between the
Sudanese and Chinese governments. In 2005 China and Russia, rivals
since the Sino-soviet split in the late 50s, began joint military
exercises. Both are now members of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation
Organisation). The SCO was founded in 2001 by Russia, China and the
Stans; through it China hopes to create a kind of EU for Asia. In the
last fortnight, China has been trying to ship arms to Robert Mugabe
in Zimbabwe.

China is increasingly becoming a threat to the USA's position as
global hegemon. [12] The US is becoming increasingly incapable of
securing its position of hegemony through economic means. Under the
Bush administration, it tried to turn to military means of enforcing
its position. However, this attempt has failed with the USA getting
stuck in an internecine conflict in Iraq.

The West, and the USA in particular, is in an awkward position where
it knows that it does not any longer have the military capacity to
prevent the increase in China's power in the manner it did in the
Korean War, for example. Anyway China is too important to the world
economy and to the west's economy and in particular the profits of
western multinationals to challenge directly. As French Foreign
Minister Bernard Kouchner said, backing down from a proposal to
boycott the Beijing Olympics, "When you're dealing in international
relations with countries as important as China, obviously when you
make economic decisions it's sometimes at the expense of human
rights…That's elementary realism." [13]

China is also in an awkward position. Its aspirations to global
hegemony are undermined by the fact that it is widely and correctly
viewed as a tyrannical and ant-democratic power. Global hegemony
cannot simply be attained by means of military and economic
supremacy. Hegemony also entails a 'moral and intellectual
leadership' [14] based on the accepted claim of the hegemon that it
is acting in the general interest. This lack of a 'moral and
intellectual leadership' is becoming a major obstacle to China's rise.

Mark Malloch-Brown, Britain's Minister for Africa, Asia and the
United Nations said of the Beijing 2008 Olympics: "This is China's
coming-out party, and they should take great care to do nothing that
will wreck that." The west has tried to ensure that the Tibetan riots
have wrecked 'China's coming-out party'. The riots in Tibet are an
international incident not due to their real international
significance but due to their ideological significance. They enable
the west to undermine China's aspirations for 'the moral and
intellectual leadership' needed for it to gain world hegemony.

Oisín Mac Giollamóir
Friday, April 11th, 2008

Notes:
[1] Zizek, S. 'From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism" in Cabinet
Magazine http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/2/western.php
[2] «Die Jugend will mehr»", Neue Zürcher Zeitung,
http://www.nzz.ch/nachrichten/international/die_jugend_will_mehr_1.693955.html
[3] "Fire on the roof of the world", The Economist,
http://www.economist.com/daily/news/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10870258&top_story=1
[4] Ibid
[5] Transcript: James Miles interview on Tibet. CNN.com
http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/03/20/tibet.miles.interview/
[6] "'Oh my God, someone has a gun ...'", The Guardian
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/mar/15/tibet.china2
[7] "Dalai clique's masterminding of Lhasa violence exposed", China
Daily, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2008-03/30/content_6576350.htm
[8] "2008 Tibetan unrest" wikipedia.org
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_unrest_in_Tibet#cite_ref-163
[9] "Chavez: U.S. encouraging Tibet violence", USA Today
http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2008-03-24-chavez-china_N.htm
[10] "China's Brutal Olympic Echo" by Dave Zirin edgeofsports.com
http://www.edgeofsports.com/2008-03-22-332/index.html
[11] Zizek, S. "From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism" in Cabinet
Magazine http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/2/western.php
[12] A hegemon may be defined as a state or power that can dictate
the policies of all other powers in its vicinity, therefore a global
hegemon is a state or power that can dictate the policies of all
other powers globally i.e. has global hegemony. Today the USA is a
global hegemon i.e. has global hegemony.
[13] "Kouchner backtracks on idea for mini-boycott at Olympic opening
ceremony", International Herald Tribune
http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/03/19/sports/EU-SPT-OLY-France-Beijing-Boycott.php
[14] Gramsci, A. "Notes on Italian History" in 'Selections from the
Prison Notebooks' pp.57-58
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