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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Human rights take back seat to economy

March 11, 2009

The Toronto Sun (Canada)
March 9, 2009

WASHINGTON BUREAU -- What with the global economic meltdown reaching proportions that defy attempts to come up with labels more accurate than "global economic meltdown" that don't include profanities, it's understandable that the language of diplomacy would take a hit.

On some files, the link between progress and economics is foggy. In the case of China's deteriorating human rights record in Tibet, it's much more obvious.

Among the written answers Hillary Clinton submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ahead of her confirmation hearing for secretary of state in January was the line, which flew fast around the Tibetan exile community, that "Tibet should enjoy genuine and meaningful autonomy." As a hint of the new administration's position, it seemed forceful and mysteriously optimistic, as though she knew about a secret Strategic Human Rights Reserve of T-bills that would counter any outcry from a Beijing newly empowered by the financial crisis.

In February, when Secretary Clinton visited Asia on her first foreign trip, new, adjusted-for-reality rhetoric surfaced about the bilateral relationship with the single largest holder of U.S. foreign debt.

"Successive administrations and Chinese governments have been poised back and forth on these issues, and we have to continue to press them. But our pressing on those issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis," she said.

That statement alarmed the Tibetan community as well as human rights groups, particularly on the eve of an expected crackdown by Beijing around the flashpoints of the Tibetan New Year and less than a month ahead of tomorrow's 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's escape to India after a failed uprising against China's occupation.

As of late last week, that crackdown was well under way with villages throughout the Tibetan plateau reportedly overrun by police and looking like armed camps. Random arrests and detentions have increased. Tibet and parts of China with large Tibetan populations have been closed off to foreigners. Lhasa is under curfew ahead of another explosive anniversary, March 14, marking last year's protests in which 220 Tibetans were killed.

To honour their memory, Tibetans refrained from celebrating Losar, or New Year's, which prompted an apoplectic Beijing to demand that they celebrate to quash any appearance of unhappiness or dissent. Chinese authorities staged fake Losar parties, set off bogus Losar fireworks and paid poor families to celebrate. This on the heels of January's reported roundup of cultural insurgents who had downloaded pro-Dalai Lama cellphone ring tones.

All Dalai Lama images, references, books and utterances are still banned, and Chinese officials continue to vilify the spiritual leader as a "splittist" and a "monster" in what may be the most persistently unsuccessful demonization campaign on record.

The term "rogue state" was mothballed by the U.S. state department toward the end of the Bill Clinton administration and replaced by "state of concern," then revived during the George W. Bush years. But "rogue state" was always too subjective. Maybe it's time for a new label that would rationalize the compromises of the new economic reality while still reflecting atrocious human rights records.

I can't think of one, either.
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