This post examines the attitudes different countries have taken towards the protests in Tibet.
David Miliband today announced that Free Tibet protesters will be allowed to demonstrate when the Olympic torch arrives in London on April the 6th. Any other answer would have been unconscionable. 2,000 Metropolitan Police will be deployed along the route, which will pass through many central London tourist spots and end in Greenwich.
The world has metaphorically raised an eyebrow at the recent violently put-down protests in Tibet itself. International news agencies have run stories (though all foreign journalists remain banned) and liberal Westerners have expressed concern, but little has been done. For me, one of the most dramatic developments in the last few weeks has been the Dalai Lama’s promise to step down if there are more violent protests in Tibet. Shades of Gandhi. The Dalai Lama conceded years ago that there is almost no chance of an independent Tibet.
China has officially blamed the Dalai Lama for the fortnight of protesting, in which an estimated 130 have died. It has also alleged the Dalai Lama is working with Islamic militants to disrupt the Olympic. [Link]
Pro-Tibet protester in Greece (the blood is fake)
Soon the UK will step in the spotlight for a short time. Yesterday the torch was lit in the Olympics’ homeland, Greece. Protesters from Reporters Sans Frontieres burst through a cordon of 1,000 police officers and held up a flag showing the Olympic rings made from handcuffs. The Greek telecast cooperatively cut away immediately until the protesters had been dealt with. One of the eight arrested is a London-based Indian journalist.
Chinese news sources have reported the day as a complete success in China.
Other countries have made their positions clear. Nicolas Sarkozy, the often confusing French President has become the first world leader to raise the possibility of a boycott of the Olympic opening ceremony. Free Tibet protesters have suggested this as opposed to a boycott of the entire Olympics.
The United States, Britain and Germany all condemned China for using force against Tibetan protesters, but they stopped short of threatening to boycott the games or the Aug. 8 opening ceremony. [Link]
Sarkozy’s comments actually follow harsh criticism from within his country on his “deafening silence” on the issue and pressure from Reporters Sans Frontieres, who are based in France. His views have won much support in France, which will be hosting the Dalai Lama during the 2008 Games. I would hazard a guess that the British public would also support a stronger line against Chinese human rights abuses, but perhaps don’t feel particularly strongly either way.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke by telephone last week with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and has said he would meet in May with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Brown’s office said he will attend the closing ceremony of the Olympics as planned. [Link]
Spanish and Australian officials hold a similar view to the other Western nations, and have reiterated the need to separate the Olympics from the political arena.
Meanwhile in Asia things are somewhat different. Many countries, some of whom are not major world players nor are involved with the Olympic relay, have safely avoided comment on either the protests in Tibet and the Olympics. Nepal, Tibet’s neighbour, has today announced that no Tibetan protests will be tolerated. There has been almost daily unrest in Kathmandu since the Tibetan protests began earlier this month, on the anniversary of a failed uprising. The Chinese have allegedly stationed hundreds of troops along the Nepali border to monitor anti-Chinese activities in Nepal.
“We won’t allow any kind of anti-China protest strikes in Nepal” said home ministry spokesman Modraj Dottel. [Link]
Despite Nepal providing home to many exiled Tibetans, it is a small nation with a meek political voice. India is the only other powerhouse in Asia, and historically one with a torrid recent history with the larger China.
India is arguably the chief reason China invaded Tibet in the first place, the world’s mightiest mountain range divides the world’s most populous countries and Tibet was a crucial buffer region between the borders. Since China’s invasion of Tibet, the two countries have officially clashed once, during the 1962 Sino-Indian war, and in several other skirmishes along the border. Arunachal Pradesh, India’s most north-eastern state, has been slowly engulfed by the Chinese with little opposition from India. Chinese school atlases have listed large parts of the state as China for some years now.
A Chinese flag burning in New Delhi protests
Martin Scorsese’s biopic of the Dalai Lama, Kundun, sums up the world’s reaction to the Tibetan’s plight in easy-to-understand Hollywood sentences.
A naive 12 year-old Dalai Lama (then Tenzin Gyatso) ask his Lord Chamberlain if India and Great Britain can help: “India is a newly independent nation. They are struggling. India is in no position to help us….Great Britain chooses not to.”
Sardar Patel, Acharya Kriplani and even literary and religious figures like Sri Aurobindo were vocal in their concerns as to China’s development. Whilst Nehru’s somewhat ridiculous “Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai” (Indians and Chinese are brothers) policy may once have been attributable to a floundering economy and a nation making its first tentative steps into independence, the excuse can hold no water now. Yet India’s policy has been disappointing.
Last week the Chinese prime minister personally praised Manmohan Singh and the Indian government for their actions in quelling pro-Tibet protests in New Delhi. India provides home to the majority of exiled Tibetans.
The government also asked Tibetans to refrain from indulging in activities that spoil India’s relations with “friendly” countries, adding New Delhi “does not permit Tibetans to engage in anti-China political activities in India”. [Link]
In a chest-beating article on Rediff, T V Shenoy harks back to the recent Burmese conflict, another cause celebre amongst liberal Westerners which drew precious little foreign intervention. He praises India’s conduct at the time (making deals with Burmese generals), and contrasts it to not only India’s impotence over Tibet, but also the forced exile of Taslima Nasreen
Why should the authorities in Delhi send its police to batter Tibetans who want to protest outside the Chinese embassy? Why should Delhi be so uneasy when the issue of Taiwan comes up? …can anyone think of a single occasion in living memory when China tried to aid India?
His inelegantly-made point is that human rights should not necessarily dictate foreign policy. Whilst dealing with Burmese generals is morally reprehensible, it brought gains to India (continued access to Burma’s natural resources), whereas quashing Tibetan freedom of speech in India does not. This viewpoint might well be important as in India, like America, the right-wing exert immense power and will be more motivated by economically-weighted arguments than ones based on the fundamental human duty to prevent suffering.
The same website hosts a distinctly contrasting view, approving India’s policy of distancing itself from the protests in the West and avoiding embarrassing the Chinese in their big year. The motive? Achieving the goals of greater Chinese pressure on North Korea and achieving the liberation of Aung San Suu Kyi.
B Raman’s article reads:
We should do whatever we can to help China in making a success of the Olympic Games. If India is seen as discreetly helping the efforts of the anti-China activists in their anti-Beijing Olympics, we will hurt the national pride of over a billion Chinese.
I can’t help but feeling that the same sentence would never appear in a Chinese newspaper with ‘India’ substituted in for ‘China’.
Professor Samdhong Rimpoche is prime minister of Tibet’s government in exile. He was recently interviewed by the Indian press, who, in contrast to their government, are more outspoken against the Chinese.
India is not at all vulnerable. India is more powerful than China if she really realises her own strengths. The problem is India still suffers from the psychological defeat of 1962. India is unable to come out of it. That year is far behind.
When you say China has better focus than India in other words it means that it is the totalitarian regime. In India, diversity ensures that it remains a free and democratic country. Of course, Western people, who are only concerned with economic development, invest in China and not in India because India is a free country; India has a free press; India has democracy; India has an independent judiciary.
Therefore, they cannot do whatever they want to, but in China they can by meeting just one powerful party member. You have visited China but not met the real people, who are poor and suffering. No Tibetan is willing to take Chinese money, but they have no option.
I and His Holiness Dalai Lama have made it clear several times that if India thinks that Tibet issue is a hindrance or an irritant for the normalisation of Sino-Indian relations, India must sacrifice the Tibet issue and ask His Holiness to shift somewhere else.
Let Tibetan refugees migrate to West or send them back to Tibet. In such case, can you guarantee that Sino-India relations will be perfectly okay? If that is so, then we are ready to obey. We are ready to go away from India.
Secondly think about this: Unless you solve the Tibet issue how you will resolve your border issue? How will you grow your relationship with China? All these things will have to be thought out keeping in mind a long term solution and strategies. Therefore, many Indians think that free Tibet is India’s real defence. This is not a hypocrite thinking
When asked about the significance of the Olympics:
Year 2008 is the same for us. What’s the difference? The Olympics are held every four years. This is not the first and last time the Olympics are being held. It was held during Adolf Hitler’s rule too.
Whatever trouble the torch runs into around the world, the most volatile destination might well be later this year when the flame passes over the Himalaya and through Lhasa. Expect a strict Chinese crackdown. Do you think boycotting the Olympics or the opening ceremony will achieve anything?
“In Asia a more perilous situation has arisen, standing sharply across the way to any possibility of a continental unity of the peoples of this part of the world, is the emergence of China. This creates a gigantic bloc which could easily engulf the whole of Northern Asia…[threaten] absorption of south-western Asia and Tibet and might be pushed to overrun all up to the whole frontier of India, menacing her security and that of Western Asia.”
- Sri Aurobindo, speaking in 1949.
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Filed in: China,Civil liberties,Current affairs,India