Bearing the torch, fuelling the flames


by Rohin
26th March, 2008 at 12:47 am    

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






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  1. Bearing the torch, fuelling the flames

    [...] desconocido wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptDespite 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. … [...]




  1. Vikrant — on 26th March, 2008 at 6:21 am  

    Yep… another display of gutless incredulity by Delhi. The exile of Nasreen was especially despicable! Yes i’m glad that i no longer hold an Indian passport. New Delhi’s foreign policy is mind numbingly idiotic.

  2. KL — on 26th March, 2008 at 8:13 am  

    The US & Associates would have at least yelled to China if:

    [1] China has no market for mongers of the West to dig gold there;
    [2] China has no over $650 billions cash reserves;
    [3] US is not in deep financial trouble at this very moment & in need of the super cheap goods from PRC; &
    [4] Tibet were Israel.

    So, my friends, bite your lips & accept the reality!!

  3. Bartholomew — on 26th March, 2008 at 9:38 am  

    Interesting examination. Xinhua has been crowing over support for China from countries like Sierra Leone, Zambia, and, erm…North Korea…

  4. sonia — on 26th March, 2008 at 12:51 pm  

    good article rohin.

    KL’s got some good points. and isn’t the USA’s national debt a factor here?

  5. Anas — on 26th March, 2008 at 1:48 pm  

    As Rohin pointed out Tibet was and is an eminently acceptable cause celebre among Western liberals — especially given many Hollywood stars’ penchants for Buddhism. However that(former?) position now holds very, very little water what with the West’s growing reliance on China’s status as global economic powerhouse — realpolitik’s dictates win out as they always will with our pathologically spineless politician class.

    And from what I understand the opportunities for a just settlement for the Tibetans are decreasing year upon year: the Chinese are attempting to systematically undermine Tibetan culture and society in all sorts of ways, including through engineering massive demographic shifts. The situation has many, often eery parallels to the situation of Palestine — the major difference being our responsibility towards the Palestinians is much greater. In both cases I think

  6. Anas — on 26th March, 2008 at 1:49 pm  

    oops, submitted my comment halfway through writing it.

  7. Anas — on 26th March, 2008 at 1:53 pm  

    To finish my post…In both cases I think the solution is to give up any useless delusions that our politicians are going to act in anything but their immediate interests and to initiate protests, start boycotts, generally raise awareness. Yeah, Iraq has shown it does a fuck of a lot of good, but I think it’s the only way, and it can have some impact.

  8. Justforfun — on 26th March, 2008 at 3:27 pm  

    “our politicians are going to act in anything but their immediate interests and to initiate protests, start boycotts, generally raise awareness”

    In general politians act in what they perceive as the electorates’ understanding of the electorates’ own interest. Its a positive feed back, where at first a little pump priming is required. Plant a few simple ideas that sort of make sense and then you can build on that. Nixon kicked it off with the idea that China was just one huge market that US Corp could sell goods and services to and so defeat the USSR. Now that sounds great to the American publics’ ear – apease and convert one set of communists to defeat another. But the flaw is that China is just too poor to afford any American made products and services, and that the situation was engineered to allow US corp to actually use Chinese labour to make US goods for sale in the US and whenever Chinese human rights were brought up, they complainants were quickly slapped down as they might endager US access the huge Chinese market !! All codswollop. There is no Chinese market for US goods and services. This applies to the UK as well, and I’m afraid I puked when I heard Gordon Brown in China refer to our relationship with China in terms of it being good for British “Consumers”. I’m not a consumer – I’m a citizen.

    All too late now – as we are addicted to cheap Chinese goods. Where would McDonalds be without the cheap toys its sells with the ‘children’s meal’ thrown in for free. Think of the unemployment in our retail sector if they didn’t have cheap things to sell!

    Luckily the Chinese print “Made in China” on things so I just leave them on the shelves , but I am running out of socks!! I suppose I’ll have to wear sandals soon!

    Thank God for Taiwan, but now it gets most of its electronic hardware from China – arghhh.

    A small step – I’ll just boycott any company in the UK that has the Berlin 2008 Games logo on it. Now I feel much better.

    It’s a sorry mess we are in and now the Chinese have all the dollars as well :-( . Just biding their time until US Corp and HBOS et al goes begging for money. Any time soon.

    My bunker is not deep enough.

    Justforfun

  9. kELvi — on 26th March, 2008 at 3:48 pm  

    I am surprised by the total absence of any criticism of “liberal’s” darling The Hindu and its editor N.Ram, who is quite possibly an even greater apologist for the Chinese Commies than Rupert Murdoch. Ram has a long history of denialism wrt to the misdeeds of the Chinese Commies, that predates his shameful misreportage of the Tiananmen Massacre. Ram displays a dishonesty that is obnoxious and almost vile when it comes to Tibet and China. If the Nazis have David Irving, China has N.Ram. After a brief wait The Hindu has as expected published its latest hatchet job on tibet, its people, and the Dalai Lama, and Nitin Pai at Acorn has shown it up for the piffle it is. http://preview.tinyurl.com/yq4wdj

    Also shameful is the behaviour of India’s Commies who have expectedly parroted the Beijing line. Yechury and Bardhan have spoken only like Commies can.

    Among the Indian leaders who spoke up to criticise India’s Tibet policy let us not forget Dr. Ambedkar.

    Rohin what you dub the “right-wing” of India is a bit player in India’s politics. It is the Commies and the “left-feudals” like the DMK dynasty in Tamil Nadu, the JD(S) dynasty in Karnataka, and the many dynasties with in the Congress that prevail. Nepal too has joined the commie tamasha after the Indian Commie supported terrorists – Prachanda, Bhattarai & Co., have become powerful. That is why Nepal is caving in to the China, whose medium term plan is to gobble up Nepal.

  10. kELvi — on 27th March, 2008 at 1:11 pm  

    How predictable. The moment you shine the light on a so-called “progressive” newspaper, all discussion stops – even on PP.

  11. Rohin — on 27th March, 2008 at 3:13 pm  

    Kelvi, I don’t think it’s anything to do with your comment – it’s just some of us are a bit busy. Unfortunately even if I get time to write a piece these days I can’t find the time to participate in comments.

    I’m not entirely sure as to the relevance of what the Hindu is like as a paper, as I don’t think I referenced it once.

    I agree the communists in India deserve criticism for their stance towards China (and their actions in general, which I regard as endlessly counter-productive), I just don’t know a great deal about the subject.

  12. Desi Italiana — on 27th March, 2008 at 4:43 pm  

    “Yet India’s policy has been disappointing.”

    Sadly, India’s policy has been disappointing in contemporary history (arguably, India used to hold certain positions that were admirable,such as the stance on Palestine– until the BJP came along).

    India, though, has recently said that it will stop sending ammo and arms to either the Burmese junta or Sri Lankan government (sorry I cannot fact-check this tidbit; internet connection is shoddy, Firefox tabs not yet implemented!!)

  13. Desi Italiana — on 27th March, 2008 at 4:44 pm  

    BTW, nice post, Rohin

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