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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?"

Opinion: Obama's Tibet test

November 15, 2009

The US president's snub of the Dalai Lama could embolden China
Manik Mehta, Special to Gulf News
Gulf News
November 15, 2009

What irony! On the day US President Barack Obama
was declared winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, he
snubbed another highly respected and widely
admired Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Tibet's
spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, by refusing to
meet him out of fear of offending China.

Obama said that a meeting with the Dalai Lama
would take place only after his impending visit
to China, which is exerting pressure on the White
House to prevent such a meeting.

The US president obviously, needs China's help on
a range of global issues, such as
non-proliferation (North Korea and Iran), human
rights violations (Myanmar, Darfur, China), US
debt [China held nearly $800 billion (Dh2.94
trillion) in US treasuries as of early September
2009], etc. But that, critics say, should not
prevent Obama from ignoring issues because they are unsavoury to China.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi,
who has personally visited the Dalai Lama in his
Dharamsala abode in India, praised the latter's
efforts to urge China to improve its human-rights
record, saying that "unless we speak out for
human rights in China and in Tibet, we lose all
moral authority to talk about human rights anywhere in the world".

This poses a sharp contrast to Obama's decision,
which has been criticised by both Democrats and
Republicans who are appalled by the situation in
Tibet; they feel the president is sending the
wrong signal to China's communist regime, which
could believe that Obama will possibly condone
its human rights violations in Tibet.

Indeed, the Beijing leadership could feel
emboldened to dictate its position on other
issues as well -- if it is not doing so already "
such as the Uighur problem, Taiwan's defence, US cooperation with India, etc.

Singh's example

Obama could take a cue from Indian Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh's response to China's massive
protest over the Dalai Lama's travels within
India. While recently meeting Chinese Premier Wen
Jiabao at the Thai holiday resort Hua Hin on the
sidelines of the Asian summit meeting, Singh told
Wen that the Dalai Lama was an "honoured guest"
of India and was free to travel wherever he liked
in India. The Chinese tried to stop the Dalai
Lama from visiting Arunachal Pradesh, a
northeastern Indian state, parts of which are
claimed by China. Even though Singh's government,
trying to placate China, banned foreign
journalists from travelling to Arunachal Pradesh
during the Dalai Lama's visit, it emphasised that
the Dalai Lama was free to visit the state, which
it describes as an integral part of India.

While the Obama administration claims that it
wants to engage Beijing and will not play down
disagreements with China over human rights,
religious freedom and freedom of expression --
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly recently
emphasised that human rights would be "at the
centre" of the US relationship with China —
critics say the president's postponement of the
meeting with the Dalai Lama goes against this professed policy.

Obama has also broken a near two-decade-old
practice of past American presidents receiving the Dalai Lama.

Many critics also feel that the recent Nobel
Peace Prize award will heap pressure on Obama,
who will have to "live up to the expectations
that are attached to the Nobel Peace Prize". In
his quest for peace, the charismatic and still
popular president may be driven to take what is
described as a ‘soft approach' and even pander to
the world's despots, including the Beijing
regime, which frequently uses brute force to
crush even the slightest opposition and is
accused of trying to eliminate the cultures of its ethnic minorities.

Take the example of Tibet, which received some
4.75 million tourists from January to September
this year. The bulk of the tourists comprised Han
Chinese, whose population in Tibet now exceeds
that of ethnic Tibetans, creating an
international outcry over the ‘cultural genocide'
systematically practised by the Beijing regime
against the indigenous population. More than 1.2
million Tibetans have lost their lives opposing
mainland China since the latter seized Tibet in
1950 and forced the Dalai Lama to escape to India in 1959.

Tibet lovers and supporters, whose ranks are
growing by the day not only in the United States
but also in other parts of the world, will be
closely watching Obama's visit to China and his actions on Tibet.

Manik Mehta is a commentator on Asian affairs.
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