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Tibet, China and the West Still Don’t Understand Each Other

March 30, 2008

The Art of War was the Annotation of Sun Tzu’s Strategies by Cao Cao, the founder of the Kingdom of Wei. The last verse of Chapter 3:

“So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will fight without danger in battles.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”

Excerpts from Asia Times: Tibet, China and the West: Back to stereotypes By Kent Ewing

HONG KONG – For China watchers who hope that mutual understanding and tolerance between Beijing and its Western counterparts will both broaden and deepen as China’s international coming-out party – the Summer Olympic Games – approaches, the riots in Tibet have proved a sobering disappointment. And for all those hoping that the Beijing Olympics will not be politicized – it’s too late, they already have been.

Once again, Chinese and Western leaders have shown us that when things get really tough in China – and the separatist-inspired riots targeting not just the central government but also innocent Han Chinese now living in Tibet and nearby provinces qualify as just that – both parties revert depressingly to form.

If you are running for president in the US during a Chinese crackdown on anything – from democracy advocates to separatists to Falungong worshippers – the script is the same, no matter your party: stern condemnation is required. Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, along with the two remaining Democratic candidates – fellow senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama – have followed that script, winning easy applause along the campaign trail but doing nothing to help America understand its increasingly important and rapidly changing relationship with China.
To most Americans, China represents two things: totalitarian oppression and loads of cheap, often tainted and dangerous manufactured goods. After that, there is a huge void that needs to be filled, but don’t count on that happening in an election year.

The prominent coverage, given Pelosi’s comments, helps to explain the conviction of Chinese leaders that the Western media game is a losing proposition for them, especially in times of crisis. It is no wonder they expel foreign reporters from troubled areas, call news blackouts and then mount their own media campaign against Western powers. To the West, this is a gross violation of the basic principles of a free press. To the Chinese, it is a simple matter of protecting national interests from attacks that are rooted in ignorance and prejudice.

And it’s true: not many in the West understand China’s concern that separatists in Tibet could feed the flames of separatism in other places, such as the large northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang, which borders Tibet.

Xinjiang, despite years of Han Chinese migration to the region, still has a majority Muslim population and a sometimes violent independence movement. Earlier this month, again according to state media, authorities foiled a terrorist attack on a China Southern Airlines flight that took off from the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi for Beijing. Details of the alleged attack were maddeningly sketchy, however, so it is hard to say what really happened.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Chinese leaders live in constant fear of those who would break up a nation that it has taken so much work (and so many lives) to put back together – and those fears are not confined to sprawling autonomous western regions but also include Hong Kong, and Taiwan – which Beijing claims as another stolen child and where China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou won a landslide victory in the presidential election last weekend over his more independence-minded rival, Frank Hsieh Chang-ting – also figures into the Tibet equation.

How much of this complex story will figure into the ongoing US presidential debate? Obama has courageously called for an honest national dialogue on racial differences. Who will be brave enough to call for an equally honest dialogue on US-China relations?


China’s senior religious official today vehemently rejected proposals, to be advanced by President Bill Clinton during his summit meeting on Saturday, that China engage in discussions with the Dalai Lama over greater autonomy for Tibet.


Obama: On China’s treatment of Tibet: “I’ve already made a number of statements that we can’t back off of human rights. And Tibet has been a chronic source of tension between the Chinese government and the American government,” he says, saying what’s important now is to not let the situation escalate. “Whether it’s the situation in Tibet or their support of the government in Khartoum helping perpetuate the genocide in Darfur, we’ve got to speak out forcefully and clearly on these issues.”

March 28: Obama sent a letter to President Bush, calling on him to employ every diplomatic tool to persuade Chinese President Hu Jintao to make significant progress in resolving the Tibet issue. Letter Text Here


Clinton: “I think that what’s happening in Tibet is deeply troubling, and this is a pattern of the Chinese government with respect to their treatment of Tibet,” she told reporters after a campaign event in Pennsylvania.

“I don’t think we should wait until the Olympics to make sure that our views are known,” Clinton said, while saying she did not have an opinion now on whether the U.S. team should not go to the games.

Clinton said President George W. Bush’s administration should be more forceful about the Tibet issue.

“I think we should be speaking out through our administration now in a much more forceful way and, you know, supporting people in Tibet who are trying to preserve their culture and their religion from tremendous pressure by the Chinese.”


McCain: China’s crackdown “is not correct,” McCain said in the courtyard of the French presidential Elysee Palace.

“The people there are being subjected to mistreatment that is not acceptable with the conduct of a world power, which China is,” McCain said in response to a question by a Chinese television journalist.

“There must be respect for human rights, and I would hope that the Chinese are actively seeking a peaceful resolution to this situation that exists which harms not only the human rights of the people there but also the image of China in the world.”

It is about time the focus is changing to understanding the full issue. Speaking without the authority of knowledge has cost too many lives, not just in Tibet. The candidates, the press and the readers must educated themselves to the whole picture and history before they speak. Indeed, countries that incorporate different cultures have an opportunity to become more fulfilling by respecting those cultures. Conflict is fueled by disrespect for cultural tradition. The knee jerk reactions to events in Tibet have made things worse. China’s immovable rhetoric refusing serious and sincere dialog has inflamed observers. All parties need to ‘time out’ and rethink how to diffuse this mess before more unintended consequences threaten China’s world image. Stop the finger pointing and sit down around a table for genuine mediation. News media seldom mentions the Hui people and the Tibetan Muslims caught in the crossfire. TruthHugger is still waiting to hear totally objective coverage about this multi-level issue.

  1. April 1, 2008 8:12 pm

    Enigma, you are correct – as hopeless as it appears, some pivotal event will correct the course. The timeframe, however, is critical. The longer this unrest continues, the more dangerous it becomes. The miracle rests on China’s shoulders because they hold all the aces. China must focus on mediation rather than stiff opposition. They are convinced they are the good guys and are being victimized by world opinion. It will take a lot of relaxing for China to resolve this peacefully. Whatever happened to working together and accepting cultural differences? There is a common goal, but China repeatedly demonstrates its fear of disloyalty caused by religion. I find that one of the most unacceptable components of Mao’s Communism. As for cheap labor … the world is addicted to cheap products, wherever they come from. The worlds unstable economy will make cheap goods a memory before long.

  2. March 30, 2008 7:54 pm

    Yes, there is stern condemnation, but those words are (probably) lies, as none of the candidates really want to endanger the source of cheap labor which are the means by which those multinational corporations produce goods.

    So the situation looks hopeless, but it’s not: there is much that can be done to advance the cause of human freedom and justice.

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