Tibet, Zimbabwe and loving China

My following article appears in the Amnesty International Australia’s Uncensor campaign about human rights in China:

The nationalistic genie has escaped the Chinese bottle. Citizens across the world have reacted strongly to the perceived anti-Chinese political and media elite in the West. Protests have mushroomed throughout China against what demonstrators view as a slight against benevolent rule in Tibet. The government is clearly behind much of the reaction.

The internet, mobile phones and chat rooms have become the new meeting place for such activities. More than twenty million people have signed a petition against the French retailer Carrefour because of the failure of authorities in Paris to protect the Olympic torch. Conspiracy theories abound in the Chinese blogosphere about these events.

Student Zhu Xiaomeng made comments to the New York Times that reminded me of similar sentiments I heard in China last year. “Tibet is our country’s territory. You have no right to interfere in our interior affairs.” Microsoft’s China homepage has become a natural home for this kind of venting.

“Love Our China” is a familiar refrain of the protestors. The relationship between the West and China is inevitably being affected, with both sides seemingly incapable or unwilling to engage rationally with the other. Surely now is the time to reach out to Chinese people and try and explain why many Westerners are upset with Beijing’s role in Tibet.

I’ve even tried to contact a few Chinese friends in China to gauge their perspective, and many of them have oscillated between damning the violence on both sides and not fully understanding why pro-Tibetan activists in London, Paris and San Francisco were so vehemently critical of their regime. Evidence that now proves Chinese regime meddling in San Francisco’s pro-China protests reveals the level of paranoia in Beijing.

A recent study found that a majority of Australians wanted the Olympic sponsors to speak out strongly about China’s human rights record. This is unsurprising considering the fact that Amnesty International and Chinese human rights activists have found China falling short of the commitments it made when negotiating the 2008 Games. Arresting a leading Tibetan performer, writer and blogger only reinforces this belief. Equally problematic is a forthcoming museum in Beijing dedicated to the “official” version of Tibetan history.

One prominent, former Chinese diplomat turned spy novelist has argued that pro-China protests will only inflame racial tensions. I was more encouraged to see a recently released Beijing-based news researcher for the New York Times call this week for greater press freedom.

However, the ongoing controversy over China’s human rights record is not just about the Beijing Olympic Games. As the West wrestles with the notion of an “after-America” world, despotic regimes are increasingly turning to China for moral, military and diplomatic assistance. Recent evidence suggests that China is providing arms and troops to save Robert Mugabe’s embattled Zimbabwean dictatorship.

London’s Independent warned that after years of complaining about Washington’s support of barbaric regimes, it’s time to worry about the dawning of a new age:

“As for Mr Mugabe, he marked Zimbabwean Independence Day yesterday by complaining of neo-colonialism and how Britain wants to retake control of Zimbabwe. He and other African leaders should think more carefully. There is a danger of their countries becoming a victim of a re-colonisation. But the threat is not from the West. It comes from the East.”

While it’s never healthy to romanticise the Tibetan cause or the Dalai Lama and the history often paints a contradictory picture, one can hope that the Olympic Games provides international attention to an occupation that is largely forgotten in the Western media.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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