This is no defense of China’s territorial conquest and continuing control of Tibet. If there is a clear case anywhere in the world of a nation meriting independence, after it was unjustly invaded, conquered, annexed and colonized, it is Tibet. And this is colonialism, pure and simple: moreover, China has no claim to Tibetan land save through an earlier vassalage in the 1700’s, after Tibet had became a battlefield between the Qing dynasty and the Dzungarian Khanate; the Communist Party’s assertion that Tibet is a vital part of China descends from early Chinese nationalist ideology, the Five Nation’s policy of Sun Yat-Sen, in which Tibetans, Mongolians, Manchus, Muslims and Han would be united in one state (and thus, I doubt the Nationalists, had they won the civil war in the 1940’s would have hesitated to invade Tibet themselves).
The Tibetan government in exile remains committed to non-violent resistance and international diplomacy, internationally effective and certainly garners sympathy with the West vis-a-vis the brutality of the Chinese government. Will it ever be effective at liberating Tibet, especially when the majority of the population is now non-Tibetan? I somehow doubt it. Did not Nelson Mandela, after the failed Soweto Uprising in 1976, call for the ANC to “UNITE! MOBILISE! FIGHT ON! BETWEEN THE ANVIL OF UNITED MASS ACTION AND THE HAMMER OF THE ARMED STRUGGLE WE SHALL CRUSH APARTHEID!” Perhaps unrealistic to some, but I would argue struggle and mass movements would be more effective then any number of meetings with foreign heads of state and getting a Nobel Peace Prize.
Nonetheless, the current uproar over the Tibetan riots in China, the well publicised Tibetan protests of the Olympics, the support of the Western media and prominent individuals and organizations, is a tremendous boost to the Tibetan independence movement. Only a few years ago, Tibetan journalist Jamyang Norbu, on a PBS Frontline interview, could deride the West’s “fuzzy” love affair with Tibet: It does not touch on the tragedy that people are actually being wiped off the face of the earth and their culture is being wiped out. (via louis proyect). This haziness seems to have evaporated over the years; now, The National Post can carry headlines that suggest a ‘cultural genocide’ in Tibet. Over the last few weeks, it has been nearly impossible to escape the media’s attention on Tibet, on the uprising, on the crackdown on dissidents, on the protests. And condemnation emerged over it; a boycott is in the works; Steven Spielberg is all for it; athletes are getting behind it, occasionally; Free Tibet sponsors it, Sarkozy supports it, Barrack Obama has declared in favour.
Besides just The National Post’s fairly extensive coverage, we have similar coverage in its prime competitor, The Globe and Mail. The New York Times has plenty, and so do the major US and international networks. Deutsche Welle radio news featured a correspondent last Monday, the 24th, who over the radio ambushed a Chinese official outside the area for the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Greece, and before being wrestled away by police, accusing angrily the Chinese of illegally and brutally occupying Tibet, eliciting a response from the Chinese official along the lines of “Tibet belongs to us” in mangled English. A search of Deutsche Welle‘s archives online reveals dozens of stories over the last few weeks. The topic won’t go away on the CBC; sports shows talk about, the radio talk shows all featured stories on it, the hourly updates carried update after update. Most spectacularly, this exchange on Thursday, March 20th, on the news show As It Happens:
CBC. You keep coming back to this notion of dialogue. But what needs to be said that hasn’t been said already? What is new that will have an effect?
Hedy Fry: I don’t know if there is anything new that we can say. What we can do is help countries like China…
CBC. But…but…help them in what way?
Hedy Fry: To help them to understand that there are better, innovative ways to deal with conflicts…that there are ways of recognizing cultural identities without sacrificing your concept of One China.
CBC. I will point out, as people know, that we did choose to boycott the Olympics in Moscow…but let me ask you this…the allegations against the Chinese government are obviously quite long…it’s not just Tibet, it’s Darfur, it’s human rights violations, its exploitation of labour, environmental degradation…it goes on and on and on…what would it take for a party like yours [the Liberal Party of Canada] to decide that, perhaps, a boycott would be in order? How bad do things have to get?
The interviewer’s tone alternated between haughty, dismissive, morally outraged, angry, hectoring, insistent and highly critical of the Canadian government not immediately calling an Olympic boycott in protest (is that CBC policy, to allow anchors and interviewers this much editorial opinion and anger? Hardly neutral but very revealing). Her opponent was a bumbling apologist, Hedy Fry, a Sports Critic clearly beyond her level here. It was preceded by an interview with a Quebecois in Lhasa at the time, describing violence, fires, army troops; another interview featured a Tibetan man with relatives in Tibet and described rumours of rampant police brutality, summary executions, fires, military columns heading into Tibet, the complete stifling of all protests, curfews and crowds being fired on reminiscent on a smaller scale of Tienanmen Square; the interviewer does even question that ‘we’ won’t boycott because of trade. This, you may counter, is not typical of coverage on Tibet, but I dare say, if one reads and listens, it is: moralist, purist, the West as civilization, the refrain to boycott China.
And this is always what we wanted, right? As readers of Chomsky, as socialists, or leftists, or the sane, we wanted our media to stand up to power and injustice, to harass the representatives of vile regimes, to finally take a side, or a stand, against aggression, against oppression, to show their anger and give us the truth, however nebulous that concept.
It should be noted that this same CBC show had a three minute segment on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War, and all they could come up with was ‘the war is controversial’. Needless to say, almost no coverage on this anniversary; Tibet is far more important, after all. I should remark that replace ‘Chinese army column’ with ‘US Marines’ or ‘Lhasa’ with ‘Fallujah’ from the CBC stories above, and you have a report on Iraq, but never will you have heard or hear a CBC interviewer hectoring a Canadian political representative for supporting the war, in Iraq or Afghanistan, or taking a stance that it is wrong so openly, or have a Deutsch Welle reporter arguing with and yelling at a US official about the occupation of Iraq. Would the outrage be palpably the same if the country was Haiti? Or East Timor? Or Moroland? Or Chechnya? Would the coverage be as extensive?