Friday, April 04, 2008
A TURNING POINT
have a few interesting opinion pieces for you this evening, all well worth reading in full. None of them are terribly long.
Lodi Gyari has been the senior Tibetan representative in the intermittent talks between the Tibetan Government in exile and the Chinese leadership, which re-started in 2002. He was formerly the senior Tibetan diplomat for North America. In a piece appearing in the International Herald Tribune (and presumably, the New York Times), he reveals that he had been fearful for some time of such events coming to pass, and had repeatedly warned the Chinese representatives that their policies were driving Tibetans into a corner.
But no one, he writes, had imagined the scale of events we've seen over the past three and a half weeks. He also makes note of a phenomenon which has been striking for me as well.
Tibetan exiles were once the dominant voice calling for change, as repression forced many citizens in Tibet to remain silent. Now the opposite is happening: Our brethren in Tibet are inspiring the Tibetans in diaspora. I salute the courage of my compatriots, who, through risking their lives and their freedom, have exposed the bankruptcy of China's Tibet policy and the strength of Tibetan identity.This is a turning point for Tibet, as well as for Beijing's Tibet policy. Mr. Gyari cites the crisis as an opportunity for China -- should her leaders decide to take it -- to truly earn the respect of the world which they desire. Read.
Britain's Channel 4 / ITN China correspondent Lindsey Hilsum writes that the Tibet situation is giving lie to the widely-touted "great change" in China, as the earlier promises of opening up for their big international party have so quickly been abandoned for Cultural Revolution style rhetoric and a "people's war." The same old problems are being managed "in the same old way," she says, with the Olympics "now threatening to highlight not how much China has changed, but how much it has stayed the same."
Professor Eliot Sperling, director of the Tibetan studies program in Indiana University's Department of Central Eurasian Studies, has an opinion piece in the LA Times which is quite thought provoking. (access it from here if you're blocked by a subscription wall) He believes Beijing has made very astute use of Dalai Lama for their own ends, continually dismissing his vow of not seeking independence, as "insincere" -- and thus forcing him to repeat it with ever more sincerity again, and again, and again. They have effectively turned him into their prime spokesman against Tibetan independence.
The Tibetan leader constantly reminds his audiences of the great material benefit of Tibet remaining within China (along with the genuine autonomy Tibet needs), and the general consensus has held that increasing economic prosperity would diminish the possibility of the showdown we see today.
Now, that thinking all seems wrong. Indeed, the demonstrators this time are not simply the "usual suspects." They are monks and nuns who by definition are outside the demographic expected to respond to offers of the good material life. Large numbers of laymen are also engaged in protests in disparate parts of the Tibetan plateau. Tibetan nationalism is not dead. Nor was it dying when money and migrants were pouring into Tibet.Tibetan nationalism cannot be theorized away, Sperling writes, and China now has a very black eye for believing that it could.
Howard French, in his Letter from China series, examines the latest kick-start of the old propaganda machine.
Mao's state created a propaganda system built on a crude triage: a world of heroes who were unalterably and impossibly good, and an even larger one of villains who were irredeemably, cartoonishly bad. Over-the-top became the routine in official rhetoric. Enemies were called "monsters" and "cow ghosts," "snake spirits" and "running dogs." And in one campaign after another the public was called upon to "resolutely crush" or "relentlessly denounce" them.He expected an observant Chinese public to recognise all the old signs of a political campaign, and mark a skeptical pause.
It's not clear, though, if that's how it worked this time. The propaganda means of the Chinese state remain overwhelming, as is its inclination not just to shape opinion, but to corral it, playing on what the documentary filmmaker Tang Danhong called the "great Han chauvinism," referring to the dominant ethnic group, a chauvinism that has been evident throughout the Tibetan crisis.French gets hints of skepticism from Chinese colleagues, but just as many hints that the program is working. Can China learn to deal with criticism, without having it become a matter of "ethnic pride or betrayal"? As yet, there is no answer for that one.