Thursday, March 27, 2008

Give China Time...?

Predictably, since the spate of anti-Chinese Western media coverage following the Tibetan uprising, there has begun to be some push-back (both by the Chinese government and by Chinese media people and bloggers) and some more sober second thought.

It's true. Some of the Western media have distorted what coverage they were able to maintain, either deliberately or through ignorance. (And some of that ignorance can be blamed on the Chinese themselves...if you don't let people in to see what's going on, what do you expect?)

The first inkling I had of this was one of the early photos of a security officer chasing down a monk, about to hit him over the head from behind. I think I saw this from the Globe and Mail (or maybe National Post). Now, the caption to this photo stated that it was a Nepali police officer. In other words, this violence was not even taking place in Tibet, but in Nepal. But unless you paid attention to the caption, you saw a Tibetan monk about to be beaten by a policeman. And what would you assume, given all the news about riots in Tibet? That this was a Chinese policeman beating a Tibetan monk in Tibet. In fact, I heard a radio commentator mention this photo in precisely that context.

And there have been other instances.

So today, the LA Times has an article discussing this. And the cultural differences that make Westerners think of China as the demon (as opposed to the Dalai Lama), and that make the Chinese take these calls for restraint in Tibet very personally. We are given to understand that change cannot come all at once. That we must be sensitive to these cultural differences. That the Chinese government really are a bunch of good guys, but you have to understand, they are just as nationalistic as the next government. They don't want their country dismembered, and from their end, the Dalai Lama certainly looks like a splittist. They have no reason to trust his statements about non-violence, or his plea for autonomy not independence. He ain't no god-king to them. He looks like just another politician who's saying one thing but doing another.

At the end of the article, there is this quote:
"There's been significant improvement," said Xiao Gongqin, a history professor at Shanghai Normal University.

"Outsiders should avoid pressuring China too much or it will return to radicalism," Xiao said. "China will improve and enjoy more democratic rights, but it needs time."
OK. Let's say we go along with this. Never mind that this is the standard excuse in all cases of dictatorships trying to stave off the inevitable. Let's accept it for now.

How much longer did you think you might need, Chinese government? You've been in power since 1949, nearly sixty years now. Occupied Tibet for nearly fifty. In historical terms, I guess that's a blip.

But that fifty years in Tibet has been quite long enough to seriously endanger the cultural survival of Tibetans, not to mention ecological and economic survival (as Tibetans, not converted Chinese...)

So, do you think another sixty years might be enough to accomplish your democratic purposes? Is that enough time? Can we maybe sell you some guns to help with that? (Western countries are very good at selling guns...)

Here's my fear: that it is indeed just enough time to make things like the Tibetan problem just "go away".

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