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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Nobel Laureates' Crowd-Dispersal Duties in Japan

November 22, 2010

20 November 2010

Dharamsala Diary is back. Sorry for the long wait, that is, if anyone has been waiting.

>From its mountain perch here in Dharamsala, the Diary has been witness to two momentous events. One is the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo. The other is the release from house arrest of the 1991 Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy leader.  Both events have been welcomed by democracies around the world.

While one is in jail and the other released, some Nobel laureates have been busily engaged in crowd-dispersal duties in Japan.  On a gray and chilly Sunday morning on 14 November, His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial with his five fellow Nobel laureates, with the international media in tow. The other laureates were F.W. de Klerk of South Africa, Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, Mohamed ElBaradei of Egypt, Jody Williams of the USA and Shirin Ebadi of Iran. The laureates made the visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial to pay their respects to the victims of the two atom bombs dropped in Japan at the end of the second World War.

On their way back from this sacred site, the laureates were confronted by a crowd of 50 to 60  protesting Chinese, across the other side of the boulevard. The crowd shouted angry slogans and punched their fists in the cold Hiroshima air. They flaunted huge banners. In both Japanese and Chinese the banners screamed: “We oppose the Dalai's splittist activities. We safeguard the unity of the country.”

You may disagree with the sentiments of the protesting Chinese crowd, but you cannot help admire their backbone for standing up to their country on a foreign soil.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama wanted to walk up to the crowd to explain to the protesters why the sentiments expressed in their slogans were wrong. He was dissuaded by his security.

Jody Willaims and Shirin Ebadi volunteered to talk to the crowd. The international media towed with them.

Just before they reached the Chinese crowd, Shirin Ebadi broke into what looked like a loud mystical Sufi chant until her words were translated into English by her interpreter.  “We love the people of China. The only problem is your government. We believe in the beauty and kindness of the people of China. So, please we beg and plead with you, ask your government to free Liu Xiaobo from prison. We Iranians like the Chinese people like to live in freedom. Don't be afraid of the powers of your rulers. Your power is greater than those of your rulers. Long live the union of the people of China with the rest of the humanity.”

The spell worked. After a scuffle with a cameraman here and arguments amongst themselves there, the protesting Chinese crowd melted away, which left Betty Williams to wonder aloud before the international media, “Why did they run away the minute we came to talk to them? We did not come here for confrontation. Shirin Ebadi and we both are peace laureates. This is the question that we all need to ask, why did they leave? There are no Japanese police here. They left because they don't want to have a conversation with us,” Williams said.

The charitable explanation is that the crowd overcome by the courage of the two laureates did not want to pursue their Dalai-Lama-is- a-splittist argument or found it unnecessary to defend the unity and honour of their nation before these two chanting we-love-China woman laureates.

The second explanation is that the crowd became shell-shocked and totally confused. In China, any protest is greeted with police beating, tear gas and eventual imprisonment and likely torture. Except for the late premier Zhou Ziyang at the height of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in the spring of 1989 when he met the protesting students in an effort at  reconciliation, no Chinese leader has ever met protesters to find out what their problems were. So when the two laureates walked up to them to find what what their problems were, the protesters, totally unprepared for this
response, left the scene.

The cynical explanation is that the crowd was a part of the Chinese Communist Party's rent-a-crowd policy. Awashed in a ballooning cash reserve but confronted by a dwindling legitimacy deficit, the Party buys writers, bloggers, and crowds to shore up its rule.

The question is, why would the Party be instigating and financing protests abroad while it is overwhelmed by squashing protests anywhere from ten to thousands of people all over China every day? These protests are increasing in intensity and number that last year's national budget for internal security nearly tallied China's national budget for external defence. China's military budget for 2009 was $80 billion. Its budget for internal security for the same year was $75 billion.

These expenses might be quite exasperating for the Chinese finance minister.  He just as well might request Shirin Ebadi and Betty Williams to use their crowd-dispersal skills in China itself. However, those leaders who are not responsible for the stewardship of China's national treasury might caution the finance minister that instead of dispersing the crowds, the two laureates might lead them. “And what would become of us?” they might ask.

(The views in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of the Central Tibetan Administration)
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