All eyes on Tibet

Globalization has made it impossible for China to suppress dissent without consequence, writes ND Batra

By ND Batra
AsiaMedia Contributing Writer

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

China will once again succeed in crushing the Tibetan uprising, which has spread from the politically re-organized region known as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) to the outlying provinces of Gansu, Sichuan, and Qinghai, where Tibetans have significant presence. Once again silence will descend upon Tibet and its people will retreat into their hearts and prayers.

But that would hardly be a remarkable achievement for a rising global power, especially when it is trying to show off to the world how the country's stupendous economic growth has transformed the lives of the people, including, as China claims, those who for centuries suffered the tyranny of Tibetan feudalism.

During more than half a century of total domination over Tibet and its cultural and religious institutions, including the massive settlement of ethnic Chinese and their businesses into the heartland of Tibet, China was supposed to have reformed and re-educated Tibetans into total submission to the Chinese superior culture and hegemony. Why has one of the most authoritarian states the world has ever known failed to brainwash and control the minds of a tiny minority of six million mostly illiterate and leaderless people? Why would these wretched Tibetans listen to the voice of the "splittest" from Dharamsala?

After all, the mighty Soviet Union was able to crush innumerable uprisings, including the bloody student- and worker-led brief revolution that began on Oct. 23, 1956 in Hungary. The Soviet Union, as China is doing now, sent tanks and troops, and in spite of the fact that there were worldwide protests against the Hungarian suppression, the Soviets succeeded in re-establishing their yoke on Hungary. Since it was the Cold War era, the United States and the Soviet Union moved on to other battlegrounds and Hungary was forgotten into the vast oblivion until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.

Tibet's storyline is different. First, after the failure of the Tibetan uprising in 1959, the Dalai Lama and 80,000 Tibetans escaped to India. Thanks to the Gandhian spirit still alive in India at that time, the Nehru administration let the young Tibetan leader gradually establish an international political and spiritual presence instead of turning him and his people into perpetually ghettoized refugees. Since the Great Escape, Tibetans young and old have been braving the hazards of the Chinese occupation forces and have kept coming to Dharamsala. This year, another 2,500 to 3,000 Tibetans will escape to India. Many of them eventually go to Europe and the United States, where they imbibe the spirit of freedom and keep the spirit of Tibet alive.

The rise of the Dalai Lama as a global spiritual leader is an amazing phenomenon. Nothing has diminished him. How could this man who has been called by a top Chinese official as a "wolf wrapped in a habit, a monster with human face and animal's heart," whose people are suffering a cultural genocide, still be so forgiving and so loving?

Visiting the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), one of the most powerful, courageous and compassionate women in the United States, told her audience that Chinese atrocities against Tibetans were "a challenge to the conscience of the world." Was she chiding India for being chicken-hearted?

"If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China's oppression in China and Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world," she admonished.

Last September when German Chancellor Angela Merkel received the Dalai Lama in her office, Chinese authorities were enraged because it amounted to giving the monk recognition as the political leader of Tibet. But Germany-China relations were on the mend until the peaceful protests by Buddhist monks in Lhasa turned into a spontaneous eruption in the entire greater Tibet region and suddenly lifted the massive public relations smokescreen that Chinese had succeeded in casting over the world about its improvement in human rights.

Through the Internet, YouTube and cell phone video, the whole world watched what the Chinese authorities were doing to Tibetans. Of all the Europeans, Germans are the most sensitive about human rights issues. Genocide and Holocaust are eternally etched into their consciousness and historical memories. Deutsche Welle quoted German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul: "Violence can never be a solution. The two sides can only arrive at a solution through dialogue."

But there can be no dialogue between two sides unless they accept each other. Tibet's Communist Party secretary, Zhang Qingli, told regional officials: "We are engaged in a fierce battle of blood and fire with the Dalai clique, a life-and-death struggle between the foe and us." Whatever happened to China's pretensions to a "peaceful rise" and the "journey of harmony"?

While Germany has been more outspoken about China's oppression in Tibet, even suspending environmental technology aid talks, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been no less bold in his decision to meet with the Dalai Lama when he visits London. He told the parliament about his phone conversation with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao urging him that "there had to be an end to violence in Tibet." He also said that he "called for constraint" and "an end to the violence by dialogue between the different parties." But China considers the Dalai Lama as a runaway rogue and troublemaker rather than a party to the dispute.

It would be unwise, however, to attempt to "resolutely crush" the Tibetan people's uprising, as the Communist Party's newspaper People's Daily has urged the government to do, and turn Tibet into an Orwellian Panopticon, much like the Soviet Union did in Hungary and its other satellite countries. In the age of wireless mobility, texting, networking and decentralized global organizations fighting for human rights everywhere, the communist leadership may not succeed in using the great Chinese propaganda machine.

The views expressed above are those of the author and are not necessarily those of AsiaMedia or the UCLA Asia Institute.