CHINA: Spinning for sympathy

The Chinese and international press paint strikingly different pictures of the protests in Tibet

By Jaime Mendoza
AsiaMedia Staff Writer

Monday, March 24, 2008

In a move that mirrored protests in Myanmar last year, the Chinese government dispatched the military to handle increasingly violent protestors in Tibet, cracked down on journalists' access to the country, and restricted citizens' access to media coverage of the demonstrations. Like the Myanmar fuel price demonstrations, local media vilified the protestors while international media sympathized with them.

Tibetans marched on March 10 to mark the 49th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. Several Buddhist monks were reportedly arrested, and the riots escalated on March 14, with reports conflicting on the number of casualties. Chinese state media reported 19 deaths while the Tibetan government in exile said the number was 130.

An editorial in The New York Times discussed the riots under the backdrop of the U.S. State Department's recent removal of China off its list of top 10 human rights violators, calling it an "undeserved dispensation" since China has not fulfilled its Olympic bid pledge to improve human rights. "Whatever gain China may have gotten from being elevated above the likes of North Korea, Myanmar, Iran and Sudan was lost by the crackdown on Tibet. China had a chance to shine for its Olympic coming-out party and is blowing it."

Wang Jiaquan, a writer for Xinhua, China's state news agency, blamed the international community's continued support for the Dalai Lama for the unrest in Tibet.

"Continuous tolerance to violence undoubtedly means appeasement to terror, while offering platforms for the rhetoric lama to sell his deceitful philosophy will only encourage him to drift further away from the negotiation framework on the Tibet issue that the Chinese government has repeatedly promised to keep open," wrote Wang.

Rosemary Righter, an associate editor at the British Times, said Beijing is "paranoid about the Dalai Lama" because of his considerable influence and the loyalty of his followers. "He is the main reason why China's method of ethnic colonisation, fairly effective with other minorities, have failed in Tibet. Not only is Tibetan culture too far removed from Chinese for assimilation to be feasible; it revolves around religious loyalties that the State cannot reach."

Indiana University professor Elliot Sperling, whose research focuses on Sino-Tibetan relations and Tibetan history, said, however, that while China recognizes the Dalai Lama's formidable soft power, it also has the leader well in hand. The Dalai Lama has continuously conceded to China -- from demanding independence then autonomy then cultural and religious rights -- while China has refused to budge an inch.

Beijing also continues to manipulate the Dalai Lama into serving as its "spokesperson," argued Sperling in his commentary. When China accused the Dalai Lama of trying to sabotage the upcoming Beijing Olympics, he announced his support of it. "The taint of illegitimacy, which has always attached itself to China's incorporation of Tibet, has largely been marginalised by the Dalai Lama where it counts: the halls of international power."

With one message pushed inside the country and another outside of it, the Los Angeles Times said, "This bifurcated media coverage all but guarantees that Chinese and foreigners will share neither the same facts nor the same views of the Tibet problem."