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Sol Sanders Archive
Friday, March 21, 2008

Tibet and the other 'national' threats to the Chinese regime

As this is written, the Beijing Communist authorities are in the process of using brute force to stem a tide of frustration and violence from a downtrodden Tibetan population.

They will probably succeed in subduing it for now.

The world has a way of looking away from morality plays when it suits the powers that be. Even the pleas of the Dalai Lama, an individual revered throughout the world for his common sense, his moderation, his modesty and his humor, even as he is a god-king for his Tibetan religious followers, have gone for naught.

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But “the Tibetan problem” will remain a thorn in the side of China’s authoritarian regime.

And the reasons are as much ideological as they are in “practical” terms of control for a state that lives through suppression. The fact that the outburst from a population which feels itself being culturally annihilated – as the Dalai Lama has explained – was apparently unforeseen in the most elaborate police state the world gives one pause. It was, after all, attempted on the anniversary of an earlier and equally unsuccessful bloody uprising. The question has to be asked: what other threats to the regime, as Beijing sees the Tibetan revolt, lie just around the corner and have not been identified much less prepared for by this group of apparatchiks who have arrived at power precisely because of their lack of ingenuity and originality?

The Tibetan outburst comes at a particularly bad moment for the Chinese authorities.

Beijing is trying to put its best foot forward in anticipation of the XXXIX Olympiad to be held in Beijing in August. From the Chinese side, the authorities have put their whole prestige and even more, their hopes, on the Games in an almost mystical way. The Games, awarded to Beijing over the protests of human rights activists the world over who compared it to Hitler’s Olympiad in 1936, were supposed to anoint “the rising China”. They were to be an accolade for a China which after several hundred years of coma after its bitter encounter with the industrial West was again taking its place as one of the world’s oldest and most important civilizations. Everything is being done that Beijing can think of – from employing the world’s chicest architects to mobilizing tens of thousand of collie labor to reinforcing its control apparatus – to make the games "a success”.

But the Chinese capital is perhaps one of the worst places that could be chosen for competitive sports. The climate, the encroaching desert which ladens the air with sand, the incredible pollution created by rapid industrial development that has ignored all environmental standards, a police state that demands the participants and the millions of guests behave according to rigid standards alien to democratic societies, plus all the problems of staging such an event, have made the Beijing games problematical from the beginning. Now the Chinese will be under increased harassment from human rights activists around the world and calls for boycotts.

Whether real or a subterfuge to use as a pretext for repression, the Chinese have identified another threat to the games. They recently reported discovery of plots by the Uighur nationalists in their westernmost province of Singkiang to stage terrorist events at the Games. The Uighurs are a Turkish people, perhaps as many as 10 million, twice the Tibetan population, who came under tenuous Chinese rule only in the late 18th century when the Han Chinese themselves had been conquered by the alien Manchus. Ironically, the Chinese had sent Uighur Moslems to fight the Soviets during the long Afghanistan war in which jihadist warriors were recruited worldwide to finally drive Moscow’s armies out. But Beijing has been fighting an underground Uighur revolt for the return of independence to “Eastern Turkistan” since the end of the Civil War in 1949. The Uighurs, like the Tibetans faced with being swamped in their own areas by Han Chinese immigrants as well as control, were encouraged more recently by the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1990 and the reemergence of independent Muslim majority states on their western border ib Central Asia. How much the Uighur nationalists have been penetrated by the more radical worldwide Islamicist terror networks has become a subject of great debate. But Beijing has lost no opportunity to assert that their problems in Singkiang arise from that kind of penetration.

As history does, there is by happenstance another complicating factor in the equation for Chinese rulers. Precisely at this moment, Taiwan – what Beijing officially regards as “a rebellious province” – is holding presidential elections. Not only are they a demonstration of what a free Chinese people could aspire to — what the Soviet dissidents used to call “a normal society” — but it has upped the ante. Taiwan’s more rambunctious politicians have put a somewhat lugubrious proposition on the ballot. It calls on the citizenry to decide whether they want to make another useless effort – useless because Beijing has the power through holding a permanent seat on the Security Council to block it – to enter the United Nations under the name of “:Taiwan” or “the Republic of China”, the name its Mainland supporters brought with them when they fled defeated in the Civil War to the Island sanctuary in 1949.

This referendum comes perilously close to what Beijing has called a red line, i.e., the declaration of de jure independence for the Island which it now joys in fact if not according to the world’s diplomats. Beijing’s cautions and threats on this – having refused to renounce the use of force against Taiwan as it builds a huge military force with missiles pointed at the Island from the Mainland – have been endorsed by Washington which has insisted through the years on a peaceful settlement of the issue of relations between the reality of the two Chinas.

In the convoluted inner councils of the one party state in Beijing, whatever the rest of the world thinks, these three issues are intricately linked. All three “nationalisms” – or the product of what the Communists call “splitists” — threaten the unity of the huge land mass and 1.3 billion population which Beijing’s muddled ideologues are trying to lead to rapid industrialization, modernization, and world power.

The Dalai Lama, as he has repeatedly in the past, has taken up the cue delivered by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, just in Beijing, that he says he got from Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. According to Brown, Wen has said privately what he has not said publicly where the Chinese have laid all their problems at the feet of what they call the Dalai Lama’s machinations, that Beijing is willing to talk with the Tibetan leader about the future of the Tibetans.

There is less than meets the eye here since fruitless negotiations between the exiled Tibetan “government” in Dharmasala in northern Indian and Beijing have gone on over the years. To the consternation and opposition of some of his younger followers, the Dalai Lama has made the major concession, that the Tibetans would accede to autonomy rather than independence in their efforts to preserve some part of the Tibetan tradition in their own difficult road to modernity in collaboration with the Chinese. But the bitter public denunciations from Beijing of the Tibetan leader and the refusal to make any concessions have continued unabated and led to the present crisis.

Meanwhile, every effort has been made by the Chinese to colonize Tibet – after stripping away half its historic territory from the so-called Tibetan Administrative Zone – by encouraging immigration of ethnic Han Chinese to swamp the indigenous population. Lhassa, the traditional religious and political capital, may well have a Han Chinese majority now. It was, after all, China’s President Hu Jintao, as gauleiter of Tibet, who put down with ferocity the last Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule in 1989.

The bloody repression, shielded from the world for the most part by elaborate censorship and suppression, and propaganda exploiting the misery of the Han Chinese victims of the Tibetan mobs, will continue. But it is unlikely that the “national” movements in either of these three appendages of the Chinese empire will be quiescent forever. That, not the nonviolent demonstrations around the world against Chinese brutality in Tibet, is a political problem that Beijing is unlikely to solve quickly and which they believe threatens the regime.

Sol W. Sanders, (, is an Asian specialist with more than 25 years in the region, and a former correspondent for Business Week, U.S. News & World Report and United Press International. He writes weekly for World and

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