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

The world should stand beside Tibet

April 10, 2008

Nima R. Taylor Binara
San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday, April 9, 2008

As a Tibetan, it is bittersweet to see Tibet on the front pages. The
world is finally seeing Beijing's repressive rule there, but the tragedy
is that it has required such bloodshed. As Chinese forces now attempt to
crush the protests, the crisis in Tibet has laid bare two important
issues: the Tibetan people's unresolved demands, and how these
aspirations impact Tibet, the world and China itself.

For more than 50 years, Tibet has been a land of simmering resentment.
Tibetans have various grievances, but the common thread is that Tibetans
want what all nations want: to control their own lives, society and
religion. Tibetans are not simply protesting specific policies; they are
demanding their right to self-determination. It is no coincidence that
in many protests, Tibetans are attacking symbols of state power, ripping
down the Chinese flag and replacing it with the banned Tibetan one.

Unlike the demonstrations in the 1980s, the protests have spread far
beyond the capital, Lhasa, to towns and villages across Tibet. Tibetan
exiles are staging sympathy protests worldwide, including when Beijing's
Olympic torch comes through San Francisco today. These actions feed off
one another, thanks to the Internet, digital cameras, cell phones and
shortwave radio. This unity among Tibetans inside and outside Tibet
represents a far stronger challenge to Chinese rule than before, and
will give Tibetans renewed inspiration regardless of whether the
protests in Tibet are temporarily suppressed.

For the international community, it is now impossible to accept
Beijing's narrative that Tibetans are happy as part of China. The
economic growth that Beijing touts in Tibet is exposed as a synonym for
Chinese colonization. The world now sees that, like East Timor and other
former colonies, the Tibetan people's demand for freedom may be
temporarily repressed but is destined to boil over. The only question is
whether the world will do anything to support these legitimate aspirations.

China's self-absorbed myth that it "liberated" grateful Tibetans has
also been shattered; its central narrative justifying Tibet's place in
its empire has vanished. Its policy of "Sinicizing" Tibet through
immigration of Chinese settlers and vilifying His Holiness the Dalai
Lama is just adding fuel to the fire. For the first time, Beijing has
actually admitted that the Tibetan protests are widespread and conducted
on a large scale.

Beijing has now resorted to a new propaganda tactic, casting Tibetans as
violent criminals and Chinese as victims. This is largely because
Beijing needed a domestic response to images seeping into China of
Chinese forces attacking Tibetan protesters. State-controlled media are
now broadcasting images of Tibetans attacking Chinese settlers;
ignoring, of course, that the demonstrations in Lhasa were peaceful for
days, and that most other Tibetan protests have been wholly nonviolent
(the same cannot be said for Chinese forces, who used live ammunition
against unarmed Tibetan protesters. The result of China's new propaganda
strategy has been to create an "us versus them" backlash among many
Chinese vis-À-vis Tibetans. This is a reckless and potentially dangerous
incitement of Chinese nationalism, but also has the effect of changing
Chinese perceptions of Tibet. Tibetans are no longer portrayed as
colorful if slightly backward "minorities." Tibetans are now ungrateful
colonial subjects in open rebellion. This is significant, because
recognition of the difference between Tibetans and Chinese is the first
step to recognition that Tibet is not China.

Looking forward, as with many colonized nations, there comes a tipping
point when a sufficient number of people rise up and say "enough." That
point has been reached in Tibet. Ngawang Sangdrol, a Tibetan nun who
became a political prisoner at age 12, once declared, "There is fire
inside our bodies, but we dare not let the smoke out." Now, the smoke
has escaped, and for Tibetans in Tibet and across the Tibetan diaspora,
there is a renewed push for freedom. And China? China will resist losing
its colony, but then so did France with Algeria, Serbia with Kosovo, and
Imperial Japan with Manchukuo.

The magnitude and vociferousness of the protests across Tibet
demonstrate that Beijing cannot forever contain Tibetan demands for
self-rule. Trying to do so only leads to instability. Through their
courage and resilience in the face of a half-century of military
occupation and religious and cultural oppression, Tibetans have made it
abundantly clear that they want more than ever to determine their own
future. The world should stand by their side.

Nima R. Taylor Binara is a member of the board of directors of Tibet
Justice Center, a not-for-profit organization based in Berkeley that
advocates the Tibetan people's right to self-determination.
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