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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China equates Tibetan traditions with U.S. slavery

November 15, 2009

Mark MacKinnon
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
November 13, 2009

Beijing -- From Friday's Globe and Mail Published
on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009 7:25PM EST Last
updated on Friday, Nov. 13, 2009 10:22PM EST

Was Mao Zedong the Abraham Lincoln of China?

In an attempt to convince U.S. President Barack
Obama of its claim to Tibet, the Chinese
government has likened the 1959 Communist
takeover of the area to the American Civil War,
inferring that Mao freed Tibetans from slavery
much as Lincoln ended slavery in the United States.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang
suggested that Mr. Obama -- who arrives in China
this weekend on his first presidential visit --
should understand China's controversial Tibet
policy better than other world leaders because
"he is a black president and he understands the
slavery abolition movement." Mr. Obama claims Mr.
Lincoln as a hero who, he says, helped make it
possible for someone of part African descent to win the White House.

"In 1959, China abolished the feudal serf system
[in Tibet] just as President Lincoln freed the
black slaves. So we hope President Obama more
than any other foreign state leader can have a
better understanding on China's position on
opposing the Dalai's [separatist] activities,"
Mr. Qin told a press conference here Thursday. He
was answering a question about whether Mr. Obama
should meet with the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace
Prize laureate whom the Chinese leadership calls a violent separatist.

While the U.S. State Department and many
human-rights groups have been critical of China's
ongoing repression of political and religious
freedoms inside Tibet, Beijing says its army
liberated Tibetans in 1959 from a system of
feudal serfdom that was presided over by a then-teenaged Dalai Lama.

Tibetan groups ridiculed the comparison. "It is
an insult for the unelected and authoritarian
Chinese government to suggest that an instinctive
democrat such as Abraham Lincoln would have sided
with China in seeking to deny the Tibetan people
their fundamental right to determine their own
future," said Matt Whitticase, a spokesman for the Free Tibet campaign.

Mr. Obama recently postponed a meeting with the
Dalai Lama in Washington until after his Asia
tour, a move that many interpreted as an effort
to appease his Chinese hosts ahead of thorny
talks on issues such as China's undervalued
currency, the need for a climate-change agreement
and Beijing's rising political and military clout
in Asia. Mr. Obama's decision was attacked by
human-rights advocates, who worry the President
is putting human rights on the back burner
because Washington needs Beijing's co-operation on other fronts.

"Part of what's happening is that the people
within the administration who concern themselves
primarily with economic issues are saying to the
President ‘please don't mention anything
sensitive because we need their help,'" said
Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for the
New York-based Human Rights Watch.

However, Tibet -- and what Mr. Obama's hero Mr.
Lincoln might have thought of Beijing's
heavy-handed rule there -- may now be an
unavoidable topic of discussion thanks to Mr.
Qin's remarks. Mr. Obama meets Tuesday with
Chinese President Hu Jintao, who established
himself as a hard-liner when he imposed martial
law in Tibet while serving as the regional
Communist Party boss there 20 years ago.

Ahead of his arrival in China, Mr. Obama will
give a major speech in Japan Friday in which he
is expected to lay out his vision of the U.S.
role in Asia, a region many say Washington has
neglected since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,
and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Afterward, he will travel to attend the weekend
Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Singapore.

In a sign of how sensitive the China stop will
be, the two sides have been wrangling for days
over the details of a town-hall style
question-and-answer session that Mr. Obama is
scheduled to hold with Shanghai students on Monday.

Both sides want to screen the 600 or so students
who will be in attendance, and Beijing is also
thought to be nervous about having the students'
discussion with the famously charismatic U.S.
President broadcast live on Chinese television.
In January, a broadcast of Mr. Obama's inaugural
address on Central China Television was censored
just as he was lauding those who "faced down
fascism and communism.” Another sentence, warning
that “those who cling to power through corruption
and deceit and the silencing of dissent know that
you are on the wrong side of history," was also excised.

In a rebuff of China's state-run media, the U.S.
embassy in Beijing Thursday hosted a "press
conference" with 13 independent Chinese bloggers.
No official media were invited.
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