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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China’s mix in beauty and politics comes to the fore

December 18, 2007

Story by KEN KAMOCHE
Daily Nation - Nairobi,Kenya
Sunday, December 16, 2007

COMMENTARY

They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Not so when Beijing
feathers are ruffled. Tibetan beauties often have to factor this into
their dreams of

modelling and a career on the catwalk.

Tsering Chungtak is not the first Tibetan beauty contestant to drop out
of a pageant following alleged pressure from Beijing. She’s the most
recent.

She says she was told to either go in as Miss Tibet-China or withdrew
from the contest.

The Chinese first came into contact with Tibetans several hundred years
ago. Ethnically, culturally and linguistically, to a lay man like
myself, they seem rather

distinct.

As far as I can tell, the languages of the Himalayas have more in common
with the Sanskrit and Urdu tongues of central and south Asia.

That didn’t stop China from occupying Tibet a half century ago and
forcing the Dalai Lama to flee.

The Tibetan issue is like a pot simmering away on the back banner,
undisturbed, unnoticed by the outside world, until something like an
otherwise innocuous

beauty pageant hits the news, or when the Dalai Lama is received and
feted in some western metropolis.

Young people are finding things like beauty contests a way to keep the
subject alive. But most know better than to confront their unlikely
master head-on.

China is constantly juggling several elusive balls at the same time.

They are battling inflation and barely managing to maintain tight reins
on the overheating economy and a currency that continues to give
headaches to their

political nemesis on the other side of the world.

High levels of inflation have in the past been blamed for untold social
strife and turmoil, when vast numbers of people across the gargantuan
country couldn’t

afford to eat.

In the midst of all this, they’re having to constantly keep a lid over
nationalist sentiments to the west in Tibet and to the East in Taiwan.
It makes you

wonder whether it’s worth the hassle.

And across the seas in the south east, rather aptly known as the South
China Sea lie the Spratley and Paracel islands which are claimed by no
less than six

countries; five, if Taiwan is counted as a part of China. The other
suitors in waiting are Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Bits of land in the middle of the high seas shouldn’t attract this much
interest.

But these aren’t just any old bits of craggy rocks. Apart from being
rich fishing grounds, the two archipelagos are said to be gas and
oil-rich, which explains

why all these countries are reaching out for them like sharks after a
shoal of hapless cod, imperialist teeth flashing in the sun.

The recent protest by hundreds of Vietnamese against China’s latest move
to claim the disputed islands showed the ugly side of unbridled
nationalist pride,

and, like the clamour for independence in some Taiwanese political
camps, or the Tibetan cause, these claims and counter-claims and their
attendant political

instability will remain a major stumbling block in China’s efforts to
square regional moral leadership with economic dominance.

And we haven’t even touched on the Diaoyu islands, claimed by both Japan
and, China.

Meanwhile, the farcical coup attempt in the Philippines has fizzled away
as expected. From the start, when the conspirators stormed a hotel in
downtown

Manila and started making their demands, it was clear that their bark
was always going to be worse than their bite, which didn’t even come.

They came through as clowns from the beginning, and they probably
weren’t surprised themselves when the nation they presumed was desperate
for

salvation looked away wearily.

The Filipino people found themselves caught between amateurish
politicians and equally amateurish bands of disgruntled soldiers who
couldn’t even put a

decent putsch together.

The people figured they were better off with the devil they knew. In any
case, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s leadership, such as it is, is nowhere
near as vile as

that of Ferdinand Marcos or half as misguided as that of Joseph Estrada,
both of whom succumbed to people power.

On a good day, the Filipino political landscape is like an unrealised
dream, a promised land that you never seem to get close to, no matter
how fine-sounding

the rhetoric that drives you there, and with their eloquence, the
language can get pretty colourful. The president is normally so
engrossed in fighting bush

fires that she hardly has any time to do her job. Every day is a
struggle for credibility.

And down under, as Kevin Rudd settles with aplomb into his new job,
ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, scrapping a notorious piece of legislation
which left

refugees languishing for years behind barbed wire, he has temporarily
stopped smiling with his first reality check.

This came in the form of a court judgment in which Judge Sarah Bradley
let off a gang of nine men aged between 14 and 26 with non-custodial and

suspended sentences after they pleaded guilty to raping a young girl.

The politics of jailing Aborigines are complicated at the best of times.
But the judge’s sense of judgment raises even more questions when she
says the girl

‘probably’ consented, before sending the rapists away with a mere
warning: ‘I hope you all realise you must not have sex with young girls’.

The girl in question is ten years old.
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