Tuesday, April 1, 2008

China barks, world obeys

China barks, world obeys

Claude Arpi (Pioneer, April 2, 2008)

[ It's not just India which has preferred to go soft on Tibet. Western countries have adopted a similar policy. The slavish attitude of most Governments has emboldened a brutal China to indulge in what the Dalai Lama calls 'cultural genocide' in Tibet ]

During the last few weeks, we have been hearing and reading that the Government of India has been chickening out on each and every issue - whether it is the India-US nuclear deal (after agreeing with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, it pretended to have 'forgotten' the draft when it met the Left parties on March 14), or the Tibetan issue.

Of course, South Block has an explanation for everything. On the Tibetan issue, for example, it says that when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited India in April 2005, the Government had agreed to "recognise the Tibet Autonomous Region as part of the territory of the People's Republic of China and... not allow Tibetans to engage in anti-China political activities in India". This illustrates the wishy-washiness of the UPA regime which allows Beijing to twist New Delhi's arm.

When one reflects on the unrest in Tibet during the past fortnight, it is probably this type of vagueness which has created an immense sense of frustration among the Tibetans. And I am not speaking about the UPA Government's attitude alone. During the last decade, most heads of state have pursued similar policies. Business is more important, they say.

I remember an incident which was narrated to me by an eyewitness. In 1998, the world community celebrated the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Article 1 says: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." A beautiful concept indeed!

Paris, the heart of the French Revolution, had logically been given the responsibility to organise the festivities to which all the Nobel peace laureates were invited. But while sending the invitations, the office of the French President 'forgot' one inconvenient Nobel peace laureate, the Dalai Lama. The French daily, Libération, was the first to break the story. Elysée Palace had to quickly backtrack and pretend that the postal service had 'lost' the invitation and that "a 'fresh' one would be sent to the Dalai Lama". The latter then decided to attend the celebrations.

The story is not yet over. During a private function, then French President Jacques Chirac was introduced to the Nobel laureates one by one. When he reached the Dalai Lama, instead of shaking hands, he simply ignored him and passed on to the next dignitary. When I heard this story, I could not believe it, but the person assured me that it was true. A few years earlier, Mr Chirac had openly spoken of "my friend the Dalai Lama".

When I recently interviewed the Tibetan leader, he alluded to the incident: "Your President used to be a close friend of mine... before he became President. Later he did not remember me (he started laughing), it did not upset me; it was his choice (and he laughed again)."

And this is only one story. The Dalai Lama must have lived through hundreds of such affronts. The Chinese Embassy has just to bark and any Western (or Indian) Government obeys. Last year, a large meeting of Tibet Support Groups was held in Brussels, the Tibetan leader was to address the gathering. When the Chinese Embassy threatened to cancel the visit of some Belgian Prince to China, Brussels immediately complied and asked the Dalai Lama to cancel his visit.

The slavish attitude of most Governments has emboldened China to go ahead with what the Dalai Lama calls a "cultural genocide". Hiding behind the most (in)famous of the Panchsheel Agreement - "mutual non-interference in each other's internal affairs" - the Chinese Government has continuously removed all traces of cultural identity in Tibet. The latest instrument of cultural purge is the railway line to Lhasa which brought four million Han Chinese to a city of a few lakhs in 2007.

Abandoned by all the great democracies, seeing that the 'negotiations' between the Dalai Lama's envoys and second-rank Chinese officials going nowhere, the despair began mounting in Tibet and Dharamsala. The summer Olympics were their last chance to get their voice heard.

It is true that the 'dialogue' between Beijing and Dharamsala has been one of the most frustrating processes, with the Chinese authorities clearly taking the Dalai Lama for a ride to gain time. China has never had the intention to give any autonomy to Tibet (as it should according to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China). Added to this, the constant insults against the Tibetan leader could only add to the frustration and anger of the Tibetans.

How can a dialogue be established when Tibet's Communist Party chief, Zhang Qingli, calls the Dalai Lama "a wolf in a monk's robe, a monster with a human face but the heart of a beast"?

Further, facts like the interdiction of displaying - or even having - photos of the Dalai Lama increase the discontent on the 'Roof of the World'. The Chinese have mentioned in one of their communiqués that Chinese shops have been burned in Lhasa by the demonstrators. When I visited the Tibetan capital in 1993, there were 12,000 Chinese shops in Lhasa for only 300 Tibetan shops. Fifteen years later, the situation is worse. How can the Tibetans not be frustrated and upset?

Whatever the motivations of Ms Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, were in meeting the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, she did put the Tibetan issue at the right level: "The situation in Tibet is a challenge to the conscience of the world... the challenge we can help meet." The third-ranking US official added: "If freedom loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China's oppression in Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on human rights anywhere in the world."

Yes, it is a challenge for the consciousness of the inhabitants of this planet when 'nations' such as Tokelau and Kiribati (or Kosovo) are recognised as 'independent' by the UN and Tibet is still colonised. Indians, who have been under foreign yoke for seven centuries, will understand this.

The only solution to the Tibetan issue is a change of regime in Beijing. Interestingly, Communist leaders have not always responded to the unrest in Tibet with the brutality we witness today. In May 1980, the Politburo of the CCP decided to send a high-level fact-finding delegation to the 'Tibet Autonomous Region'. The delegation was headed by the top party functionary, Mr Hu Yaobang, who was then the CCP general secretary. Reaching Lhasa, he was shocked to see the level of poverty in Tibet. During a meeting with the party cadre, he asked "whether all the money Beijing had poured into Tibet over the previous years had been thrown into Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra)".

Mr Hu Yaobang said the situation reminded him of colonialism. Hundreds of Chinese Han cadre were transferred back to China. The situation was better for a few years until Mr Hu Jintao became the party chief in Lhasa. His arrival corresponded to the worst riots and one year of martial law in Tibet.

Will China find a new Hu Yaobang? This is the most important question for its - and Tibet's - future.


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