05/01/2020 No. 155
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Tibet Unrest
By Frank Ching
April 1, 2008

Just as Beijing prepares to bask in the glow of international acceptance of a rising, peaceful China, the violence in Lhasa may result in the spotlight falling instead on a China that suppresses demonstrations by Tibetan monks, that cracks down on human rights advocates and that is associated with the world's most recalcitrant regimes.


Back in 2001, when Beijing won the bid to host the Olympic Games, there were rapturous celebrations in the country as it looked forward to finally regaining its proper place in the world. Now, however, there is a danger that the whole thing may go horribly wrong and that the Olympics will magnify the country's failings even more than its achievements.


Right now, it looks as if China is going to crack down hard on Tibetans who beat up Han Chinese March 14 while destroying their businesses and torching police cars. The Chinese authorities have already pronounced "the Dalai clique" guilty of the "well-planned sabotage in Lhasa."


China has closed off Tibet to foreign visitors and is denying requests from foreign journalists to visit the region. Hong Kong reporters there have been told to leave. It appears that Beijing is preparing to carry out the Chinese saying of "closing the door in order to beat the dog" without any witnesses.


Actually, China should realize that foreign correspondents are not necessarily hostile and their dispatches convey credibility. For example, the British journalist James Miles, the only foreign correspondent legitimately in Lhasa, wrote favorably of the behavior of Chinese forces, saying of Lhasa's old Tibetan quarter, which saw two days of anti-Chinese rioting: "So far, in this part of the city, the security forces appear to have acted with relative restraint."


The Chinese government has been injecting money into the Tibetan economy, including the construction of a railroad to link the region with major cities like Shanghai and Beijing. The idea was that a rising standard of living will lessen Tibetan opposition to Chinese rule.


However, the attacks on Chinese businesses suggest that many Tibetans feel that only the new migrants have benefited from the improving economy rather than the indigenous population. This could be similar to the situation in Macau, where huge injections of capital and the opening of casinos have resulted in inflation and little benefit to the locals.


While the Chinese government has reported 13 civilians killed by demonstrators, rumors have spread that 80 or 100 Tibetans have died at the hands of security forces. Such rumors, if untrue, must be nipped in the bud.


China must be keenly aware that repression in Tibet could well result in calls to boycott the Olympics. Already, some athletes are reported to be considering such a boycott. This is a time for Chinese leaders to be creative. The object should be to defuse the Tibet bomb and at the same time to restore trust in the Chinese government.


One way is to invite eminent international personalities to form a blue-ribbon panel to go to Tibet and to see for themselves what the situation is like. Of course, for reasons of sovereignty, China cannot let foreigners decide on policy but that is no reason why an advisory body cannot be created.


Such a panel will inject credibility into the handling of the Tibet issue. Once it is set up, pressure would have been removed from the Chinese government and the world can refocus its attention on the Olympics. While the members have to be carefully chosen, there are plenty of retired statesmen who are people of integrity and can be counted on to be fair and objective unless, of course, China fears international scrutiny of its record in Tibet.


After all, there is no reason for Beijing to be fearful of Tibet's secession. No country in the world recognizes the Tibetan government-in-exile and even India, which provides a home to the Dalai Lama, has reaffirmed its position that Tibet is part of China.


In 1959, after the Tibetan uprising that led to the flight of the Dalai Lama to India, Chairman Mao Zedong predicted that, in the 21st century, things would have changed so much that the Dalai would want to return. Before that can happen, however, Mao's successors must create the necessary conditions.

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Frank Ching is a journalist and writer who has reported and commented on events in Asia, particularly China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, for many years. He worked for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review. He opened The Wall Street Journal's bureau in China in 1979, after the normalization of U.S.-China relations, thus becoming one of the first four American newspaper reporters to be based in Beijing since 1949.
He received a bachelor's degree in English from Fordham University, a master's degree in philosophy from New York University and a Certificate in Advanced International Reporting from Columbia University as a Ford Foundation Fellow.
He is the author of ANCESTORS: 900 Years in the Life of a Chinese Family, (Morrow, N.Y. 1988). Using his own family as a vehicle, he presented a history of China from the Sung dynasty to the present. He is also the author of Hong Kong and China: For Better or For Worse, published jointly by the Asia Society and the Foreign Policy Association in New York and The Li Dynasty: Hong Kong Aristocrats, published by Oxford University Press.
Currently, he is Senior Columnist for the South China Morning Post. He syndicates a weekly column on China that appears in newspapers around the region.
For 12 years, he hosted a weekly current affairs TV program called "Newsline," which appears every Sunday evening on ATV World. He is also Adjunct Associate Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he teaches courses on Taiwan-Mainland Relations and on U.S.-China Relations.
His articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, World Policy Journal, China Quarterly, Current History, the Washington Quarterly, and other publications.
He has given speeches across the United States, including delivering the Inaugural Lecture of the Ravenholt-Severyns Lecture at the University of Washington. He was the inaugural lunch speaker at the annual Chiefs of Defense Mission sponsored by the Commander in Chief, Pacific, in Honolulu.
Contact information: Frank Ching, E-mail: frank.ching@gmail.com
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