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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 is something of a neophyte where public relations is concerned

February 18, 2008

South China Morning Post
Feb 13, 2008

China is something of a neophyte where public relations is concerned. It is trying to improve this; it has enlisted the help of lobbyists and is seeking to enhance its soft power by, for example, opening Confucius Institutes around the world to promote Chinese language and culture. Yet, many officials who seek to improve China's image to the outside world are still somewhat lacking in sophistication.

One problem is that the communist party is reluctant to acknowledge the mistakes of Mao Zedong , who led the country from the inauguration of the People's Republic in 1949 until his death in 1976. Mao was responsible for countless deaths and kept the country poor through disastrous political campaigns like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Mao and the Communist Party are responsible for countless personal tragedies. And, today, the party is unwilling to contemplate compensation for the victims and continues to honour Mao in his sarcophagus in Tiananmen Square.

True, in the 1980s, the party started to acknowledge that Mao had committed grievous mistakes, especially that of launching the Cultural Revolution. But even this was glossed over as "the error of a great proletarian revolutionary", as though it was understandable that great men would make great mistakes.

Today, Chinese officials proudly point out that the positive changes in China over the past three decades have been made by the party itself, claiming credit for correcting mistakes that should never have been made in the first place - mistakes that have been paid for in blood by millions of Chinese.

However, they do not point out that no other party could have corrected the communists' mistakes because no independent parties are allowed to exist. Every time a group tries to set up a political party, such as the China Democratic Party, in 1998, they are arrested and put in prison. The leaders of that stillborn body tried to register their party the day that then US president Bill Clinton arrived in China on a state visit, hoping that his presence would protect them. However, they were arrested as soon as he left. Chinese officials also like to attribute problems in international relations to cultural misunderstandings. While linguistic and cultural problems do exist, most problems have much more tangible roots. If Beijing showed greater transparency in the way it governed and the way decisions are made, such misunderstandings would greatly diminish. The "cultural" differences are often differences between democratic cultures and an authoritarian one.

China has little experience of dealing with other countries on a basis of equality, traditionally considering all other nations to be little better than barbarians. Today, of course, China is a firm supporter of democracy in international relations, with each country carrying the same weight.

However, it is interesting to note that, until recently, every time the Foreign Ministry reported on a phone conversation between the American and Chinese leaders, it prefaced the report by saying that the conversation had taken place "upon the request" of the US leader, as though the American side was a supplicant. Today, the more neutral phrase "previously arranged telephone call" is often used instead.

A better human rights record would do wonders to improve China's image. It would also help if China stopped behaving in an almost paranoid fashion towards other countries, especially where the Dalai Lama is concerned. Beijing insists that he is not only a religious leader, but is actually trying to split China.

No country in the world recognises Tibet as an independent country; China could greatly reduce complications in its relations with other countries by simply dealing with the Tibetan issue more pragmatically.

If Beijing is serious about improving its international image, it should realise that what is needed is a better product, not better salesmen. The solution to China's problem lies in China's hands.
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