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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Getting creative with power plays

July 8, 2008

James Rose
The Standard (Hong Kong)
July 7, 2008

Power has many forms. Even the most powerful are sometimes forced to
be creative with the uses of their influence and reach, and cannot
simply ram though their intentions.

For Beijing, the mutability of its power relationships is an enduring
truth and is informing many of its more pressing political issues.
Rather than utilize the cudgel to get its way, the government is
utilizing other more subtle political techniques to maintain its
position. There are both dangers and opportunities in this.

The nature of China's power is being tested as its relationship to
Tibet is developed and evolved in the harsh light of pre-Olympics
scrutiny. Last week talks were held behind closed doors between
Chinese and Tibetan representatives and this is seen by many as a
positive sign. Dialogue often is, but when one party holds a cannon
to the head of the other, the benefits of dialogue tend to dissolve.

As such, with regard to the Tibet talks, the metaphoric presence of a
still- hot gun barrel on the table undermines the opportunity for
real dialogue. Some might call it soft power. Others might call it co-option.

Such a technique is being used in regard to China's burgeoning civil
society sector. Funding structures and registration laws favorable to
centralized power and inimical to disparate civil- based power have
worked to sap the nongovernment sector of much of its independence
and have guaranteed Beijing has no viable sub-political rivals.

Similarly, it is used in China's "criminal" justice system,
especially where that pertains to so-called enemies of the state.
Various dissidents and activists are often subjected to forms of
"gentle" annoying, intrusive, intimidating, violating power, with the
intention of breaking their will rather than forcing the justice system to act.

The case of Hu Jia, previously discussed in this column, sheds light
on many of these tactics, largely because Hu and his wife Zeng Jinyan
are such diligent chroniclers of their own predicament.

Hu and Zeng have been subjected to live-in state security personnel,
interrogation sessions peppered with periods of sleep deprivation and
mild physical torture, detention without trial and various assaults
on their liberty. Zeng has never been actually charged with any
crime, while Hu is accused of being seditious for uttering some
fairly innocuous and true comments about Beijing's modern corporate state.

In both cases, Beijing appears to have decided that, rather than
locking up these niggling examples of sub-state power, they would be
better to seek to show them their errors and to help them mend their
errant ways. It appears as more a victory than mere cover-up.

Thus, Beijing is looking to use its power more creatively. From the
point of view of justice, it is not right. But it is certainly smart
and the strategy has played well for China. It allows Beijing to
pursue a line of self-victimization, particularly under the
ever-glittering veil of Olympic credibility, and to further
indoctrinate not only its friends, but its enemies and critics as well.

For Tibetan negotiators, China's soft/hard power is potentially
dangerous. Despite the Dalai Lama's clear line that, officially,
Tibet has no independence aims and is supportive of Beijing's Olympic
success, China has sought to demonize Tibet's spiritual leader and to
cast itself as deeply wronged by his apparent non-existent- attacks
on China's sovereignty.

It has also made much of aspects of racial abuse against Han
immigrants inherent in some of the protests in Tibet. This is the
victim-oriented soft power play.

This has been accompanied by economic marginalization of ethnic
Tibetans in Tibet and of harsh crackdowns on dissent, which follows
decades of genocidal rule in Tibet from Beijing. This is the
not-for-public- consumption hard power.

Tibet will have to work hard to ensure it gains the autonomy it
seeks, and is not co-opted by Beijing's soft power massaging, even
though it may be cowed by the gun of state power held to its head.

Many will be watching, such as Japan and the United States, who are
involved in their own power games with Beijing and are, claim some,
using Tibet in a pseudo-Cold War with China.

In the future of Tibet may well be written the future of China's
global power game.

James Rose is editor of www.corporategovernance-asia.com
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