March 24, 2008
Speak Out on Tibet
China has cracked down on Tibet and neighboring provinces. It sent more troops into restive regions and made scores of arrests in Lhasa. It acknowledged firing on demonstrators in Sichuan. Yet, the response of the international community — and of the International Olympic Committee — has been tepid. Beijing must be called to account, especially since it will host the 2008 Games.
We are just learning details of what happened. China has blocked most news coverage despite a pledge to give freer access to journalists in the run-up to the Olympics. Tibetan exile groups say about 100 people died in violence that followed a week of peaceful protests. Beijing puts the toll at about 20. In any case, the violence is neither acceptable nor particularly surprising.
The State Department says Tibet — taken by force by China in 1951 — is “one of China’s poorest regions.” Authorities have increased controls over the practice of Buddhism and committed serious human rights abuses.
The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, has shown remarkable restraint against what he calls “cultural genocide.” Despite the bloodshed, he reaffirmed a commitment to nonviolence and greater autonomy — rather than independence — for Tibet. In return, Beijing called him a “devil.”
But China’s authoritarianism is backfiring, fueling resentment that exploded in Lhasa and radicalizing Tibetans, who increasingly demand independence.
The United States and other major countries must go beyond anemic statements urging Chinese restraint. They must make it clear that such repression violates the promise Beijing made to improve its human rights record when it won the Olympics bid. It mocks the Olympic Charter, which extols “human dignity.” It mocks the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes “equal and inalienable rights of all.”
The West should keep pressing Beijing to begin serious talks with the Dalai Lama and instruct the United Nations Human Rights Council, which has investigated reported abuses by Israel, Sudan and Myanmar, to begin a similar probe in Tibet. The White House says President Bush is trying privately to influence Beijing. So far, we see no positive results.
Inexcusably, the International Olympic Committee has done little to defend its values and has stuck with plans to have the Olympic torch pass through Lhasa.
Boycotting the Olympic Games does not work; we know that from experience. But the idea of Bernard Kouchner, France’s foreign minister, about not attending the opening ceremony is worth considering. What message does it send if Mr. Bush and other dignitaries lend their prestige to China’s coming out party as if nothing happened in Tibet?