Tibet's Shattered Hopes

The US should join other nations in condemning Chinese repression

THE Bush administration recently demonstrated once again both its willingness to sacrifice human rights and its inclination to acquiesce to Chinese pressure.

In mid-March a broad coalition at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights supported a European Community-sponsored statement condemning the Chinese occupation and oppression in Tibet. When this coalition sought much-needed support from the United States, Washington waited until the final hour and submitted a watered-down version of the resolution that the US knew would fail. As predicted, original supporters defected, and last-minute delay tactics by the US guaranteed that there would be no time to

resurrect Tibetan hopes.

As prospects for democracy in Tibet faltered, President Bush emerged from the situation a clear winner on two fronts - both at home and in China. While presenting himself to the Chinese as the force behind the resolution's failure, he can simultaneously confront a Congress critical of his China policy with the assertion that he recently supported a statement condemning Chinese human-rights abuses.

This recent move manifests the cynical premise that drives Bush's foreign policy: that the fate of oppressed people must be subjugated to the maintenance of his domestic popularity and the manipulation of international geopolitics.

Not long ago, Bush was fervently condemning Iraqi atrocities against the Kurds as he rallied support for his Persian Gulf war initiative. Then, when advocating Kurdish freedoms was no longer expedient, he quietly abandoned their cause. Some Tibetans postulate that if the Tibetan plateau were rich in oil, they would have already regained their independence.

The ramifications of the 1950 Chinese invasion of Tibet have been devastating. Over 1.2 million of the 6 million Tibetans have died as a direct result of the Chinese occupation. Meanwhile, the Chinese have decimated the Tibetans' unique culture, destroying all but 13 of Tibet's 6,254 monasteries and murdering or imprisoning an entire generation of Tibetan politicians and religious leaders.

Because monasteries have historically been the centers of power and learning in Tibet, the Chinese have instituted severe restrictions on religious freedoms. The Chinese Army continues to surround the three Lhasa monasteries that fomented uprisings of 1988 and 1989. Monks require permission before they can leave.

Meanwhile, the Chinese prohibit new monks from joining these monasteries and strictly limit the number of new monks at other monasteries. The Chinese have furthermore forbidden religious leaders from giving large public teachings and have canceled the Tibetans' most sacred religious holiday, the Monlam prayer festival, for the past four years.

Freedom of expression is severely limited for all Tibetans, but monks are granted even less latitude and are punished more harshly than lay people. While publicly advocating independence will certainly lead to imprisonment, monks can also be incarcerated for uttering "forbidden" religious prayer or for carrying a picture of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetans' spiritual and political leader.

According to human-rights groups such as Amnesty International and Asia Watch, monks and nuns suffer inhuman abuse in prison. Prisoners are often crammed into damp solitary-confinement chambers for months. Nuns are raped.

While the Chinese have particularly targeted religious figures in Tibet, their policies ensure that all Tibetans suffer under Chinese occupation. All citizens suffer restrictions on basic civil liberties. Individuals who transgress Chinese rules are tried under procedures known as xian pan hou shen (verdict first, trial second). Many people are never formally tried but rather assigned "administratively" to years of "reeducation through hard labor."

The Chinese policy of population transfer is especially alarming, for it promises to make the Tibetans a minority in their own country. The Chinese government offers special incentives to Chinese who settle in Tibet. Already the capital, Lhasa, has more Chinese than Tibetan residents. Beijing calculates that if this population-transfer policy continues, Tibetan cries for independence will soon be muffled under the blanket of new Chinese settlers.

Chinese policies in Tibet affect not only Tibetans, but much of the Asian subcontinent. China's rampant deforestation of Tibet not only contributes to the greenhouse effect but also alters the flow of rivers crucial to the Asian ecosystem. Recent studies have linked deforestation in Tibet with the devastating floods that have swept through Bangladesh and India.

Without concerted and direct pressure on the Beijing government, the Chinese will never change their policies in Tibet. Since the Chinese know the US will never retaliate against their intransigence concerning Tibet, they have no incentive to change.

As Deng Xiaoping once said about a 1970s democracy leader, "we can afford to shed some blood.... Look at Wei Jingsheng. We put him behind bars and the democracy movement died. We still haven't released him, and there has been no international uproar."

The Chinese fear that if they yield in Tibet, other peoples such as the Uighurs and Kazhaks will besiege them with similar claims to independence. Scheduled to regain Hong Kong in 1997, the China's government is also concerned that any reported domestic turmoil would damage confidence in Hong Kong's future and scare away vital investment.

Bush hopes that by fostering capitalism in China, he will concomitantly promote political liberalization there and in Tibet. This simplistic formula is doomed to failure. There is no evidence that a mere infusion of capitalism produces greater political freedoms. General Pinochet in Chile brought about remarkable market reforms without compromising his authoritarian rule over that country. Capitalism and apartheid peacefully coexisted for years in South Africa.

It's time for the US to realize that its passivity reaps little reward either for it or for the people of China and Tibet. It's time to make the Chinese realize that they need us more than we need them. And it's time for Bush to demonstrate that he is committed to a vision which comports with his New World Order rhetoric.

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