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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Opinion: We Can Help China Embrace the Future

August 27, 2008

The Wall Street Journal
August 26, 2008; Page A21

The Beijing Olympic Games were a powerful spectacle, stunning in
sight and sound. But the moment that made the biggest impression on
me came during an informal visit just before the Games to one of the
new Chinese Internet companies, and in conversation with some of the
younger Chinese entrepreneurs.

These people, men and women, were smart, sharp, forthright, unafraid
to express their views about China and its future. Above all, there
was a confidence, an optimism, a lack of the cynical, and a presence
of the spirit of get up and go, that reminded me greatly of the U.S.
at its best and any country on its way forward.

These people weren't living in fear, but looking forward in hope. And
for all the millions still in poverty in China, for all the sweep of
issues -- political, social and economic -- still to be addressed,
that was the spirit of China during this festival of sport, and that
is the spirit that will define its future.

During my 10 years as British leader, I could see the accelerating
pace of China's continued emergence as a major power. I gave speeches
about China, I understood it analytically. But I did not feel it
emotionally and therefore did not fully understand it politically.

Since leaving office I have visited four times and will shortly
return again. People ask what is the legacy of these Olympics for
China? It is that they mark a new epoch -- an opening up of China
that can never be reversed. It also means that ignorance and fear of
China will steadily decline as the reality of modern China becomes
more apparent.

Power and influence is shifting to the East. In time will come India,
too. Some see all this as a threat. I see it as an enormous
opportunity. But we have to exercise a lot of imagination and
eliminate any vestiges of historic arrogance.

The volunteer force that staged the Games was interested, friendly
and helpful. The whole feel of the city was a world away from the
China I remember on my first visit 20 years ago. And the people are
proud, really and honestly proud, of their country and its progress.

No sensible Chinese person -- including the country's leadership --
doubts there remain issues of human rights and political and
religious freedom to be resolved. But neither do the sensible people
-- including the most Western-orientated Chinese -- doubt the huge
change, for the better, there has been. China is on a journey. It is
moving forward quickly. But it knows perfectly well the journey is
not complete. Observers should illuminate the distance to go, by all
means, but recognize the distance traveled.

The Chinese leadership is understandably preoccupied with internal
development. Beijing and Shanghai no more paint for you the complete
picture of China than New York and Washington do of the U.S.
Understanding the internal challenge is fundamental to understanding
China, its politics and its psyche. We in Europe have roughly 5% of
our population employed in agriculture. China has almost 60%. Over
the coming years it will seek to move hundreds of millions of its
people from a rural to an urban economy. Of course India will seek to
do the same, and the scale of this transformation will create huge
challenges and opportunities in the economy, the environment and politically.

For China, this economic and social transformation has to come with
political stability. It is in all our interests that it does. The
policy of One China is not a piece of indulgent nationalism. It is an
existential issue if China is to hold together in a peaceful and
stable manner as it modernizes. This is why Tibet is not simply a
religious issue for China but a profoundly political one -- Tibet
being roughly a quarter of China's land mass albeit with a small population.

So we should continue to engage in a dialogue over the issues that
rightly concern people, but we should conduct it with at least some
sensitivity to the way China sees them.

This means that the West needs a strong partnership with China, one
that goes deep, not just economically but politically and culturally.
The truth is that nothing in the 21st century will work well without
China's full engagement. The challenges we face today are global.
China is now a major global player. So whether the issue is climate
change, Africa, world trade or the myriad of security questions, we
need China to be constructive; we need it to be using its power in
partnership with us. None of this means we shouldn't continue to
raise the issues of human rights, religious freedoms and democratic
reforms as European and American leaders have done in recent weeks.

It is possible to hyperbolize about the rise of China. For example,
Europe's economies are still major and combined outreach those of
China and India combined. But, as the Olympics and its medal tables
show, it is not going to stay that way. This is a historic moment of
change. Fast forward 10 years and everyone will know it.

For centuries, the power has resided in the West, with various
European powers including the British Empire and then, in the 20th
century, the U.S. Now we will have to come to terms with a world in
which the power is shared with the Far East. I wonder if we quite
understand what that means, we whose culture (not just our politics
and economies) has dominated for so long. It will be a rather
strange, possibly unnerving experience. Personally, I think it will
be incredibly enriching. New experiences; new ways of thinking
liberate creative energy. But in any event, it will be a fact we have
to come to terms with. For the next U.S. president, this will be or
should be at the very top of the agenda, and as a result of the
strength of the Sino-U.S. relationship under President Bush, there is
a sound platform to build upon.

The Olympics is now the biggest sporting event in the world, and
because of the popularity of sport it is therefore one of the events
that makes a genuine impact on real people. These Games have given
people a glimpse of modern China in a way that no amount of political
speeches could do.

London 2012 gives Britain a tremendous chance to explore some of
these changes and explain to the East what the modern West is about.
One thing is for certain: Hosting the Olympics is now a fantastic
opportunity for any nation. My thoughts after the Beijing Games are
that we shouldn't try to emulate the wonder of the opening ceremony.
It was the spectacular to end all spectaculars and probably can never
be bettered. We should instead do something different, drawing maybe
on the ideals and spirit of the Olympic movement. We should do it our
way, like they did it theirs. And we should learn from and respect
each other. That is the way of the 21st century.

Mr. Blair, former prime minister of Great Britain, is teaching a
course on faith and globalization at the Yale Schools of Management
and Divinity.
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