2008-04-04

Considering Tibet

More on Tibet in this editorial from Manik Mehta in the Taiwan Journal. A few observations offered in the article include these.

The killing of demonstrators, reportedly by members of the secret police force, was a major embarrassment for China, especially with the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games less than five months away. Outrage was expressed in many parts of the world, including the United States, where there was widespread unanimity among all sections of society that the PRC should not only stop its oppression of the Tibetan people, but also enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama and his exiled parliament in Dharamsala, India.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed her deep sadness about the killings and urged Beijing to "exercise restraint" when dealing with protesters. She also called for detained monks to be released. "We urge China to respect the fundamental and universally recognized right of all its citizens to peacefully express their political and religious views, and we call on China to release monks and others who have been detained solely for the peaceful expression of their views," she said March 16. "I am also concerned by reports of a sharply increased police and military presence in and around Lhasa."

Rice's choice of words deliberately reminds China's government of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. China, as a member of the United Nations Security Council, is supposed to lead the world in support of these principles. Instead, as we all know, it is one of the globe's most regular violators of the document's most basic tenets.

The events in Tibet serve as a stark reminder to the world that China's government has really made no progress toward greater respect for human rights. The same people who answered Chinese students with tanks in 1989 are still in charge.

That the Lhasa shootings happened under the very nose of the international community should remind people of the tendency of the PRC to act aggressively toward any form of dissent. The world should also take recent events as an example of the systematic destruction of Tibet's ancient culture and way of life--referred to as "cultural genocide" by the Dalai Lama.

The behavior of Chinese security forces in Lhasa belied China's claims that it had modernized and helped Tibet by "liberating" the people from centuries of feudalism and poverty. Instead, many experts say that China has done little except tightening its grip on the mountainous area by constructing strategically important roads and airports that only bring Tibet closer to neighboring Chinese regions and provinces. Even the new Qinghai-Tibet railway that leaders in Beijing have said will improve the livelihoods of the Tibetan people is the cause of much contention. It is considered by many people as a way to facilitate the transfer of the Han Chinese population to Tibet. This mass "migration" has seriously diluted Tibetan culture, making ethnic Tibetans a virtual minority in their own land.

Contrary to claims that China has Tibetan interests at heart, statistics tell another story: approximately 80 percent of Tibet's monasteries and temples were destroyed by 1966. Indeed, after the Cultural Revolution in China, only 13 monasteries remained in Tibet, an area that once boasted several hundred monasteries and temples. Beijing maintains that Tibet has historically always been part of China, yet Tibetans state the region was independent long before the PRC took over the reins.

Mehta commends two leaders who have stood strong against China's rights violations.

On Sept. 23, 2007, Angela Merkel of Germany received the Dalai Lama in Berlin, and Nancy Pelosi, the U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives, called on the monk at his home in the aftermath of the Lhasa killings. Pelosi even had to conduct her visit to the tune of heated remarks made by Zhang Yan, the PRC's ambassador to India.

China is worried that the Tibetan protests could escalate into wider unrest amongst China's rural masses, who are losing patience with their leaders for failing to provide them with a better life. There are also concerns about the Muslim Uighurs who primarily live in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and who harbor deep resentment against the Communist regime. The Tibetan issue could therefore have a disastrous effect not only on China's economy, but also on law and order in many other provinces.

Reflecting these fears is Lhasa itself. Today the city looks more like an impregnable fortress where prying journalists and activists are prevented from talking to local people. Three of the capital's biggest monasteries have even been sealed off by the authorities.

China has rejected the Dalai Lama's past offer of holding talks on autonomy for Tibet, instead calling him a "splittist" who is intent on trying to separate Tibet from the "motherland." China hopes that the next generation of Tibetan leaders, after the Dalai Lama's death, would be more accommodating than the present one. However, according to a number of experts, the next generation may actually turn out to be far more militant and less accommodating than the Dalai Lama, who has done nothing but advocate peaceful means for settling differences.

In Taiwan we are all too familiar with the Chinese government's surreal representation of things and the toxic rehetoric it directs at 'spittists.' Mehta, too, sees implications for Taiwan. It is crucial, he says, that desire for economic exchanges with China not be allowed to compromise Taiwan's freedom and sovereignty.

Government Information Office Minister Shieh Jhy-wey has categorically stated that the people of Taiwan do not want the "same fate as Tibet." His remark mirrored the general sense of unease among many Taiwanese people who see the incidents in Tibet as a stark reminder that China cannot be trusted to preserve Taiwan's democracy.

Taiwan's people should stop and think twice before backing any kind of arrangement with China. The fruits of Taiwan's economic prosperity and the country's free and democratic society should be cherished above all else.

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