Machetera normally is content to stay in the Western hemisphere. Heaven knows there’s more than enough news on this side of the planet. But occasionally her attention wanders, and Danielle Bleitrach, a retired French university professor and sociologist who has written a number of books and articles on the working class and the problems of development within the framework of globalization is someone who always has a perspective worth reading.
This article was written for her blog (where in the comments section you can find even more Chinese history, but you’ll have to read French because Machetera’s translating skills have limits after all!) and appeared where else, at rebelion.org where it was translated by Caty R., a member of the Rebelión, Cubadebate and Tlaxcala collective. Thanks to Caty R. and apologies to Bleitrach if anything got lost in the voyage from French to Spanish to English.
Who shows up in the current dustup in Tibet, but Robert Menard of the CIA front Reporters Without
Ethics Borders. See, there’s a Latin American angle after all!
The information that we have at present in the West comes primarily from a broadcaster financed by the United States, Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia. The official information from China partially confirms the claims: everything began with the demonstrations by the monks, but then degenerated into violence. On the other hand, the Chinese government reports state that the dead were Chinese merchants massacred by organized gangs and therefore, disproved the thesis that the Chinese police did the shooting.
Thursday, March 13, 2008, the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the demonstrators of “looking to trigger social conflicts.” On Saturday, apart from the proceedings of the Chinese National Assembly, the New China news agency described the situation as “Demonstrations by Tibetan Buddhist monks against Chinese rule, which degenerated on Friday in Lhasa, causing 10 deaths – no foreigners were among them.”
The head of Tibet’s regional government, Champa Phaunstok, stated that law enforcement had not done the shooting. “We didn’t open fire, however, we will deal severely with those criminals whose activities are aimed at dividing the nation,” he told the Associated Press while at the annual session of the People’s National Congress, the Chinese legislative assembly. According to New China, “the majority of the victims were business owners.”
According to the information from Radio Free [Europe/Asia], the demonstrations provoked by the Tibetan Buddhist monks against China degenerated on Friday in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, but witnesses have given accounts of shots from security forces and from the burned cars and businesses.
Consistently according to reports from Radio Free Europe, two people were killed. According to Radio Free Asia, soldiers used tear gas and real ammunition against the demonstrators who burned Chinese vehicles and businesses in the city center.
Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia have also cited witnesses who report that they saw two bodies on the ground in the Barkor neighborhood, where the demonstrations were centered. A larger number was mentioned on the radio, without providing exact figures.
China considers Tibet to be an integral part of its territory. It is also seen that way at the international level, while in the West it is thought that the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950.
The Debate About Tibet
Effectively, since the thirteenth century, Tibet has belonged to the Chinese empire, and imperial monuments have texts written on their pediments in five Chinese languages, Tibetan among them; an empire with feudal departments and a bureaucracy, even before the appearance of Tibetan Buddhism such as exists today. The defenders of Tibet’s independence and of the Dalai Lama believe that Tibet was a simple fiefdom, a protectorate. In historical terms, the pro-independence Tibetans explain that if the Himalayan region had historically been an integral part of China, the region had come to be practically independent and they accused China of trying to destroy Tibetan culture.
Tibet, within the framework of China’s colonization and border wars, was an object of rivalry between Great Britain and Russia. Great Britain, established in neighboring India, assumed and has always recognized China’s sovereignty over this country which it occupied militarily and commercially. In 1908, China, taking advantage of the Britsh departure, retook control of the country.
Afterwards came the collapse of the Chinese empire and the establishment of the Republic in 1911. What broke the personal relationship as vassals which existed between China and Tibet were the Tibetan monks, who were in the highest level of feudalism, practicing bondage. The thirteenth Dalai Lama proclaimed Tibet’s independence and refused to recognize the Chinese Republic.
Great Britain acted as a mediator and proposed a division of Tibet that China refused to recognize in spite of the fact that in practice, the ties had loosened and the theocracy of the Dalai Lama expanded its powers. In 1950, the communist People’s Liberation Army returned to Tibet, which it considered governed by feudal lords, and did not encounter resistance. It created a government for Tibet that has maintained its religion and monasteries.
But since 1956 there have been successive rebellions: in 1959 there was the Lhasan insurrection. The Dalai Lama left Tibet and sought refuge in India along with 150,000 supporters. The rebellion was severely repressed, the exiles and associations supporting Tibet’s independence claimed that a million people had died, although in reality, the figures, though considerable, did not exceed ten thousand.
The Chinese communist government abolished servitude and the terrible corporal punishments and explained that this rebellion had been fomented by the former monks and masters. Meanwhile, the religious authorities in exile along with their western supporters, denounced the attacks on Tibetan culture as well as the attacks on human rights. The West, particularly the United States, developed this theme of Tibetan spirituality trampled by the “invading” Chinese.
China believes that it is not only an issue of a region integrated within China since the thirteenth century, but that [Tibet] had been liberated from feudalism and recently has reported to be constructing a railroad. A region, moreover, essential to its security and a route to India, with whom China has always had relations. Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama and the exiles, with the United States and the associations for Tibet’s independence, believes that it is an independent region whose culture China is trying to destroy.
Thus, as to its religious aspects, the Chinese have abolished traditional medicine and astrology. Around the Dalai Lama in India, the culture was rebuilt, with a University of Astrology that benefits from large financial support from the United States. The Chinese state that freedom of religion is respected, but their adversaries denounce the secularization of some aspects of this culture which may have lost their original significance.
They denounce the massive resettlement of the Chinese and a situation of exclusion for the Tibetans, as well as the detentions and mockery of human rights, at the same time recognizing a material improvement in human rights. The Chinese say that the situation of human rights is better than it was under slavery, where corporal punishment and mutilation was frequent. They also argue that women’s status has improved as well as that of environmental conservation and preservation of the local culture.
The wealth of the Chinese merchants is one of the most convulsed affairs at the local level and without doubt, it’s no accident that they were the ones attacked. The economic context of Chinese development is a witness here as it is everywhere else in China, of formidable growth tied in particular to tourism, but also linked with a growth in inequality and presently, high inflation that hampers supplies for families of more modest means. In this sense it’s conceivable that the monks’ demonstrations also give rise to other demonstrations of anger more closely related with the economy which surely multiply and fuel criminal acts.
The defenders of the Tibetan cause fear that the new railway will contribute to accelerated Chinese emigration to Tibet and faster extraction of already over-exploited natural resources. The Tibetan government in exile believes that in particular, “the railroad will facilitate Chinese control of Tibet and will imply the arrival of many Chinese emigrants.” But for the Chinese, emigration is, for example, Chinese merchants who move to Paris. Tibet is part of China and the movements of people which happen within a country. China is a country of intense internal migration.
Is the Dalai Lama Involved?
Another source of Dharamsala in India, the Dalai Lama, has asked China to “stop using force against the demonstrations, which are ‘an expression of the Tibetan people’s deep resentment.'” In one communique, the spiritual leader of Tibetan buddhists in exile declared himself “very worried” by the situation in Tibet and asked Beijing “to respond to the Tibetans with dialogue..(rather than) resentment.” He also urged Tibetans to “not resort to violence,” something that obviously was the case in the monk’s first demonstration, but degenerated rapidly into violence. The Dalai Lama says that he is not involved in the events taking place in Tibet, but one has reason to doubt his assertion.
Demonstrations of support for the Tibetans also took place in India and Nepal, another source of information. In Katmandu, Nepal, at least 12 buddhist monks were wounded in clashes with police during a pro-Tibet demonstration that gathered some thousand people. Also incidents erupted in New Delhi, India, where the Dalai Lama and his supporters have refuge, and there were also confrontations between pro-Tibetan demonstrators who tried to reach the Chinese embassy, and law enforcement. The Indian police detained dozens of people.
Many of the pictures we see are archival photos of these Indian demonstrations.
The Western Countries’ Position
Although its possible that the West develops campaigns designed to raise public awareness about Tibetan culture, with its spirituality mocked and the lack of respect for human rights (1), on the international level it’s difficult for Western countries, following the United States, to approve of these campaigns not to recognize Tibet as Chinese territory. At no time has a recognition of Tibet as an independent territory appeared at the international level, even if as we’ve seen, Great Britain proposed a certain autonomy and recognition of “spiritual” power at the time of the establishment of the Chinese Republic. Legally, it’s difficult, if not actually impossible to recognize such independence for what is essentially about repression and human rights which would serve for Western intervention.
It’s also for this reason that China has reacted strongly in the case of Kosovo. There’s the example of the fragmentation of the former Soviet Union, to which Putin put the brakes, and China calculates correctly that the strategy employed for the former Soviet Union and for the ex-Yugoslavia could be applied [in its case as well]. Like most countries in the world, China has seen in Kosovo a precedent that could lead to a general balkanization based on race, religion or other things.
Hence a political choice: in the first place China has responded to the question of of human rights by referring the United States to its own responsibilities in this regard and on March 13 distributed a white paper on the violations of human rights in the U.S., but has not responded directly on the question of Tibet, which it considers to be an internal affair. There are two dead, but neither are foreigners, and so it is no-one else’s concern, it says. We will have to wait until the first official photos are published.
The United States and the European Union asked China to show “restraint.” “Beijing should respect Tibetan culture,” said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe. The U.S. president George W. Bush, believes that “Beijing should have a dialogue with the Dalai Lama.” The U.S. authorities recommended that their citizens avoid traveling to Lhasa.
On Friday, the European Union adopted a declaration that called for “restraint” from China with Tibet. “The Slovenian presidency proposed a text, which we accepted” in which “restraint is asked for and that detainees from pro-Tibet demonstrations (…) be freed,” indicated the French Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner, another source of information.
Robert Menard of Reporters Without Borders urged pressure on China, which needs tranquility for the Olympic games which will be celebrated there in August, to achieve an end to repression. The personalities involved for quite some time in denouncing China have put the train in motion. Such as Mia Farrow, who has been promoting demonstrations against the Olympic games for some months, and who is active in the campaign against China in the name of Darfur, and now heads a campaign for Tibet and was introduced at the Chinese embassy as the leader of a delegation.
Therefore we have a pointed strategy: promote the actions of NGOs, the groups traditionally financed by the West who gather against a country to declare that the human rights, “spirituality” and indigenous culture are threatened and exist in intolerable situations. The Western countries say nothing at the beginning because they know that international law is not on their side, but they support the campaign which claims to be about human rights and repression. Then China reproaches them about their own repressive activities and the situation in the Middle East.
It seems hard at the present time to imagine a military intervention against China, but the potential for rebellion and the campaigns to create opinion remain.
(1) According to custom, the Chinese refuse to comment on a problem they consider internal, like most non-western countries, hence the “rarity” of any information different from that of the West. China choses to respond, more generally, on the question of human rights in the United States and question those. Also one must take into account China’s great diplomatic activity in an area which the United States considers its “private reserve” in the Pacific: the numerous small islands under U.S. protectorate. The political evolution in respect to Taiwan and efforts toward normalization of the situation with Japan should also be noted. The United States, which maintains its powerful Seventh Army in the Pacific, has difficulty maintaining the warlike alliances which form the traditional fence facing China.