Join our Mailing List

"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Tibet And Politics Could Continue To Plague China And The 2008 Beijing Olympics

June 14, 2008

UW Professors Say Dalai Lama Not As "Holy" As He Appears
By Wei-Lon Lee 
KWNow (Waterloo-Kitchener, Canada)

With the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games fast approaching, China continues
its policy of "war of words" with its western critics, first over its
involvement in Sudan, and more recently, of  its Tibet policy.

Despite Beijing's tacit willingness to reopen talks with
representatives of the Dalai Lama on May 5, Chinese foreign affairs
spokesperson Jiang Yu made it clear to reporters that China still
maintained the 72-year-old instigated the March demonstrations. He
said the government agreed to reopen negotiations with him solely out
of "generosity."

"We hope that the Dalai side will cherish this opportunity, have a
correct understanding of the situation, change its position and take
concrete actions to stop disrupting the Beijing Olympics and stop
separatist activities," said Jiang.

The face-to-face meeting between the two sides was the first since
the violent uprisings which exploded in Tibet on March 14.

A surprising trend in recent weeks, which counter the pro-Tibet
protests, are the equally feverish pro-China support from Chinese
communities in western cities.

However, taken together, these trends are not particularly
surprising, as they are an indication that the protests around the
Olympic torch relay have backfired, said China expert Kevin Cai, a
professor of east-asian studies at the University of Waterloo.

"Rather than help them, the protest movement actually damaged the
Tibetans' cause, because the Tibetans have now made the case that not
only are they against the Chinese communist government, but that they
are against the Chinese presence in Tibet in general," said Cai.
"That has prompted an enormous outpouring of support from Chinese
from around the world."

Another issue surrounding the China-Tibet conflict is the
questionable quality of reporting by the western press.

Barry Sautman, associate professor of social science and Tibet expert
at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said western
media in general reports uncritically on the Dalai Lama with very
little understanding of his position or the history of Tibet.

"Frankly, the western press has been rather ignorant on the whole
issue," he said in a telephone interview.

Furthermore, there is a general tendency in the west to adopt a
negative attitude toward China and to assume that most of the Chinese
living overseas are unsupportive of the mainland government.

"And that is categorically false, as was demonstrated by the
counter-protests being organized by the various Chinese communities
around the globe," said Sautman.

In fact, there is a big gap between how the industrialized nations
view China, and how underdeveloped or developing countries see it.

"Most developing countries in Asia and Africa see China much more
positively than the west does," said Sautman. "They are not
uncritical of China, but they see China as a positive force for change."

There has also been little scrutiny of the Dalai Lama's demands
regarding Tibetan independance, including the fact that he claims
autonomy for a geographical area much larger than what is known as Tibet.

"He wants more than just Tibet, he wants autonomy for any area which
has a significant Tibetan population," said Cai.

But for Chung Chieh, the Tibet conflict touches on an issue much more
sensitive than one's rights for freedom of expression; the right for
China to exist.

"I lived during a time when Chinese people feared for the existance
of their country," said the 71-year-old professor emeritus of
chemistry at the University of Waterloo.

Chieh, who is also president of the Central Ontario Chinese Cultural
Centre, says the Olympic Games should not be used for political purposes.

"However a lot of people try to use the Olympics for their own goals," he said.

Chieh said he also believes that the entire issue of Tibetan
independence has been misrepresented in the western media.

"We should report with a very objective attitude about what is really
happening, rather than using the little bit of news we have to stir
up the political and racial divisions in the world," he said.

"In the past 20 years, China has done so much; I think it deserves
some reality reporting."

Sautman said it is easy to see why the outpouring of pro-China
support has been so strong in the Chinese communities overseas.

"The west sees years of oppression in Tibet under Chinese rule
beginning in 1951 after the communist invasion, but in China's view,
Tibet has been a part of it for over 700 years," he said.

In fact, Tibet was allowed to retain their autonomous status even
after the arrival of the communists in 1951, said Sautman.

Is The Dalai Lama Being Manipulated?

"That changed in the late 1950s, when the CIA began to fund
separatist forces in Tibet in the cold-war fight against communism.
The 1959 Tibet uprising was suppressed and the Dalai Lama fled. This
policy only ended with Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1972."

So the bitter feelings in China now are connected to that history of
meddling by the U.S. and other foreign powers.

But the Tibet issue is more a question of human rights than political
independence, said Dermod Travis, executive director of the Toronto
branch of the Canada Tibet Committee.

"The Dalai Lama has said on many occasions that he is not seeking the
political independence of Tibet," said Travis. "What we are seeking
is a meaningful autonomy for the Tibetan people that would ensure the
survival of the Buddhist culture and the Tibetans' distinct identity
as a people."

Travis also rejected the accusations launched by the Chinese
government that the Free Tibet Movement is politicizing the Olympics.

"The Chinese government made this a political issue by promising
unrestricted access to the media when bidding for the rights to host
the Olympics, and then shutting the doors when the riots broke out in March."

"We think foreign journalists should have free access to Tibet to
ensure that the truth be reported," he said.

Travis said he also does not believe the charges that the Dalai Lama
had instigated the violent protests in March.

"The Dalai Lama has always maintained his 'middle path' approach of
dialogue and peaceful protests, and has especially appealed to the
Tibetans not to resort to violence," he said.

However, according to Sautman, there are strong indications that the
March 14 protests were not "spontaneous," as claimed by the Tibetan
exiled government.

'There was a reporter from the British magazine the Economist who
witnessed the riots in Tibet, and what he witnessed was that there
was a group of three to five people standing on top of buses who had
loudspeakers, and were telling rioters to attack Chinese shops," said
Sautman. "The impression he got was that the riots were very well
organized and planned out."

Sautman also challenges the western perception that Tibet is being
exploited by the Chinese.

"There is this misconception that China is flooding Tibet with
Chinese immigrants, and that these immigrants are taking advantage of
the Tibetan people," he said.

But most of the people who have benefited from the increased
investment which China has injected into Tibet are actually local
Tibetans, said Sautman.

"The reality is that most of the Han Chinese who've immigrated into
Tibet are not wealthy people, and most of their businesses fail
because of intense local competition."

Tibetans also enjoy many privileges unavailable to ethnic Chinese populations.

"Tibetans are exempt from the "one child" policy and they generally
do not have to pay taxes, even if they live outside Tibet," said Sautman.

According to Sautman, the real issue behind the rising discontent of
the Tibetan youths is not a lack of freedom, but a lack of education.

"One of the major failings of the Chinese government in Tibet is the
educational system and the vocational training for youths, which lags
far behind in terms of standard when compared with the rest of China," he said.

If young people aren't well trained, then they can't find jobs in the
market, said Sautman.

"I think this is one of the most pressing problems facing Tibetan
youths right now that deserves some serious attention by the government."

The Games Must Go On

The issues facing China and Tibet are ongoing. The 2008 Beijing
Olympics are just around the corner and  after the protest and
interruption of the Olympic Torch run, it makes one wonder
if  western influences will continue to push for human rights change
in China by using the world stage of the Olympic games in an attempt
to embarrass the Chinese in front of a watching world. Only time will tell.

View Wei-Lon Lee's Video Interviews and Report:

Don't know much about the Dalai Lama ? CLICK Here to read his Biography.

Wei-Lon Lee is a graduating student of the Conestoga College media
and journalism programs.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank