On the Tibetan Protests

In a TrekBBS thread on Arthur C. Clarke, I wrote the following:

Someday. I loved the film [of 2010], even if it cut out my favorite sequence in the book — the Tsien on Europa.

That’s something I loved about Clarke’s work. His near-future science fiction had a cosmopolitan feel to it. That the United State was one nation among many. That the Soviets were not the villainous monsters that I grew up believing they were in the era of Ronald Reagan’s militarism. Clarke told us that we needn’t feel threatened by our neighbors and fellow travelers on this Earth. Star Trek said that and paid lip-service to it, but Clarke actually showed that.

Given the news out of Tibet this week, I’ve had China on the mind, obviously.

I was listening to the BBC News Hour this morning. There was a reporter and his team, hidden away in Tibet somewhere. They didn’t say where. Reporters — foreigners, too — were supposed to leave. They were getting out. It wasn’t safe any longer, they decided.

It seems to me — though it could be because I haven’t really looked — that American news outlets aren’t covering the uprising in Tibet. It could be, as with the BBC, that the reporters that were there are gone. Or that there were never reporters there to begin with. It could be that, like companies like Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Google, that the American networks are concerned with upsetting the Chinese and losing business with them.

I have a reader of this blog in Beijing. I don’t expect to have that reader in about fifteen minutes. The Great Firewall of China. Should I consider this person that I don’t know and have never spoken with directly, save through what he — presuming it is a he — reads on this blog? That wouldn’t be me. If I have something to say, I say it.

The BBC played a sound clip from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi wants an international conference to determine what’s going on in Tibet. Pelosi was quoted as saying, “If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against Chinese oppression and China and Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world.”

For people who aren’t aware, like the Tienanmen protests of 1989 that led to a brutal crackdown by the anti-democtatic leaders of the Chinese government, protests in Tibet against Chinese oppression have turned violent, leading to thousands jailed. How did this happen?

It began, oddly enough, with a balloon seller.

On Feb. 21, during a fireworks festival in the town of Tongren in Qinghai province, a Tibetan child tried to buy a balloon from a Chinese vendor. They argued over the price, and the vendor reportedly slapped the child in the face. When an older man began fighting with the balloon seller, the man was allegedly beaten and detained by a Chinese policeman, who was soon surrounded by a crowd of Tibetans.

Hundreds of police reinforcements arrived, violence erupted, stones were hurled, dozens of police and Tibetans were injured, several police vehicles were destroyed and about 200 Tibetans, including monks, were arrested, according to reports last month by Tibetan activist groups and Radio Free Asia.

The next day, several thousand Tibetans marched to the government offices to demand the release of the detainees. The Tibetans chanted “Long Live the Dalai Lama” and pro-independence slogans, until most of the detainees were released.

“Something as small as a balloon can spark it,” said Matt Whitticase, a spokesman for the London-based Free Tibet group. “It shows how frayed the Tibetan feelings are. They feel that they are treated as second-class citizens.”

From such humble beginnings, a crisis began. In China’s eyes, their actions in Tibet are vital. It is, in their words, “a life or death struggle“:

Chinese authorities appeared to be battling on three fronts: getting protesters in Lhasa to surrender, ensuring that the agitation does not spread to the neighbouring provinces with sizeable Tibetan population striving to do everything possible to see that the Olympic torch rally does not meet its ambitious plans of reaching Mount Everest in May.

The government on Wednesday admitted that serious riots are spreading to nearby Gansu province. But it also claimed that 105 rioters have surrendered to the authorities in Lhasa by the close of deadline of Monday midnight. The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games said it was confident that the unrest would not affect the plans for the Olympic torch.

The announcement came more than a day after the deadline had been crossed, giving rise to suspicion that the local government may have included those arrested after a long manhunt in the list of people had voluntarily surrendered. Officials are keen to prove the success of the surrender deadline and avoid being criticized for making repressive arrests, sources said.

With China deploying a massive security force to quash the uprising and sealing off the hotbed areas from foreign media, activists and a rights group warned hundreds of Tibetans believed arrested may be at risk of torture.

Activist groups also released photos on Tuesday of eight dead Tibetans they said had been killed by Chinese forces at a protest in Sichuan province, saying it was proof of the brutal methods being used to quell the unrest.

But amid the fierce international scrutiny and its image being tarnished ahead of the Beijing Olympics, China showed no signs of backing down in its controversial campaign to end the uprising against its 57-year rule of Tibet. “We are currently in an intensely bloody and fiery struggle with the Dalai Lama clique, a life or death struggle with the enemy,” Tibet’s Communist Party leader Zhang Qingli said in an editorial in the Tibet Daily on Wednesday.

It’s only a life-and-death struggle in the sense that China makes it a life-and-death struggle. Like the issue with Taiwan, what are China’s interests? The Tibetans are a different people, with a different cultural background. Different religion. Different ethnic group. Tibet historically had nothing to do with China. China’s rule of Tibet seems entirely to be “because we can.” Not because they have any right to it. Just because it’s there. In short, Tibet is an issue because China has made in an issue. If China let Tibet go, neither would feel any loss.

As Nancy Pelosi meets with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists, to support the cause of freedom, President Bush believes that it is more important to support the Chinese regime by attending the Olympics, thus rewarding their behavior. Behavior that, the Daily Telegraph reports, had led to deaths:

[China has] admitted firing on Tibetan protesters for the first time, as it sent in tens of thousands more troops to restore order.

State media said that four Tibetan “rioters” had been wounded when police opened fire on Sunday in the town of Aba, Sichuan province, neighbouring Tibet.

It did not give details, but Tibet support groups said that at least 12 people died in a protest which began at Kirti monastery in Aba. Monks in Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India, have released photographs of what they claim are some of the dead.

Until now, the Chinese government has refused to confirm reports of shootings by security forces in response to the unrest in Tibet and surrounding regions.

The only casualties the government has mentioned are the Chinese victims of the Tibetan mob that swept through Lhasa last Friday, after a wave of largely peaceful protests by monks.

Chinese authorities have admitted that members of the security forces fired on Tibetan protesters

It said between 13 and 16 were killed.

The admission came as reports from the region described a huge build-up of tens of thousands of troops, and a house-to-house search for those involved in riots and demonstrations.

The old foreign policy beliefs — engagement, not isolation — have failed to change China. The belief that a robust economy would bring with it democratic institutions has proven false. The hopes of Hong Kong to remain democratic post-1997 have faded over time. The Tienanmen Square protests of 1989 are remembered in the West, but in China they’ve been forgotten. The belief that the Internet would allow dissent and a free press in China has failed, as well — the Great Firewall of China shows that, in Asia, at least, information doesn’t want to be free. These protests in Tibet, too, are perhaps doomed to failure — the international community may condemn them, but it’s a hollow condemnation as the world wants the free flow of cheap Chinese goods.

I don’t know what the solution is to Tibet. Boycott the Olympics? Boycott Chinese goods? Engage China in a dialogue? Send in United Nations peacekeepers? I don’t know.

What I do know is that past approaches for dealing with China have failed.

The Arthur C. Clarke remembrance wasn’t random. We all share this world. We should be concerned with tyranny and injustice, and man’s inhumanity toward man. China’s culture is among the oldest on this Earth, yet thousands of years hasn’t afforded them wisdom. Cracking down of people who want to live a life free of Chinese tyranny isn’t wisdom. It’s foolishness.

And as I type, Tibet still burns.

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