Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

China’s power should not make it immune to criticism over Tibet [The Age]

TIBET: Of late, Tibet has almost all but dropped out of political debate surrounding Sino-Australian ties. Is the cost of economic interdependence with China Australia’s right to speak on human rights issues – ‘The habit of rolling over and allowing Beijing to dictate the terms and shrug off constructive criticism of its handling of Tibet will hold inevitable consequences for Australia down the line.’? That said, how often do Australian politicians criticise their American strategic partners? Here’s a look at a small sample of netizen responses to this opinion piece on the Age.

– – –

The true cost of Chinese imperialism is borne by those hiddden far away from the disinterested gaze of the outside world.
SteveH. – September 30, 2011, 7:04AM

Why do we keep seeing so much rubbish written about China and Tibet. I suggest more Australians should travel to Tibet and Nepal and see the great contrasts in these closely related regions. I have traveled in Tibet and neighboring areas many times and I see there is no evidence that the people are oppressed. They can freely practice their religion and they are enjoying an unprecedented economic boom. The regions they live in are very harsh and cold and that led to a terrible feudal system which the present Chinese Govt has eliminated. Do we long to see these people go back to their oppressive feudal system? Is that what we want to see as tourists??
Dr B S Goh | Australian in Asia – September 30, 2011, 8:16AM

Absolutely…the western world remains largely silent whilst the ethnic cleansing of Tibet continues. It’s a disgrace.
Help Tibet | Sydney – September 30, 2011, 9:18AM

There is large Chinese community in Australia, most of them are still sympathy to Communist Chinese. There is no clear benefit for Australia to concern such issues like Tibet or Taiwan. But Thanks Dr Simon, you are alone on this issue, but a like a candle light in a dark room, you will be shining like a ray of light penetrate through darkness of ignorant, greedy, and injustice. Keep it up, your soul will be enlightened and your heart will be joyed due to your moral to stand up for the weak such as Tibetan. Good work.
Elite | Lidcombe – September 30, 2011, 9:37AM

– – –

China’s power should not make it immune to criticism over Tibet
Simon Bradshaw
Source – The Age, published September 29, 2011

You’ve likely not read about it, but tragic news emerged this week from remote Sichuan province that two teenage monks of a besieged Tibetan monastery had set themselves alight in a desperate last defence of their culture and heritage. Also this week, and given far more prominence in Australian media, Prime Minister Julia Gillard signalled a greater emphasis on relations with China while commissioning a White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century.

While clearly there was no direct link between these two incidents, their juxtaposition highlights an uncomfortable truth for the Chinese and Australian governments alike.

Such stories from Tibet have become frighteningly common and it’s well understood among a majority of Australian politicians that China’s “economic miracle” and unrelenting development drive has exacted a grave toll on the land and people of Tibet.

So why did the latter story, which prompted extended pieces in The New York Times and Guardian after hitting the international news wires, go largely unreported in Australia? More to the point, why has Tibet all but dropped out of public and political debate surrounding the Australia-China relationship?

Chinese officials, from the President down to the Chinese ambassador in Canberra, have been remarkably successful in entrenching the myth that we cannot raise Tibet without jeopardising our own economic future. The most modest and low-level diplomatic representations over Tibet, East Turkestan, Taiwan or any number of other sensitive issues are met with the now familiar cries of “damage to bilateral relations” or the “hurt feelings of the Chinese people”. Australia under Kevin Rudd was accused of such faux pas more than once, only to see Chinese investment in Australia skyrocket. With China ever more dependent on Australian ore, our relationship to Beijing is one of interdependence and we must comport ourselves accordingly.

You don’t have to be the Treasurer to appreciate the importance of the Australia-China relationship. But the notion that it is in Australia’s best interests to forge ahead with joint economic ventures while staying tight-lipped on known problems inside China and Tibet is as short-sighted as it is morally disappointing. The habit of rolling over and allowing Beijing to dictate the terms and shrug off constructive criticism of its handling of Tibet will hold inevitable consequences for Australia down the line.

Like any complex challenge, the relationship requires us to look beyond immediate benefits and consider the outcomes across a suitably long timeframe. We must consider not only how to add a few percentage points to next quarter’s economic growth but equally what sort of world we want to inhabit in 10, 20 or 100 years. Do we want to see China’s culturally rich and environmentally important peripheral regions steamrolled in Beijing’s unrestrained push for strategic and economic superiority? Similarly, as the doors are opened ever wider to Chinese investors, are we comfortable with the Chinese development model being exported to Australia?

As the initial shock and sadness at the latest heart-aching story from Tibet subsides, it’s time to ask how much longer we are willing to put these questions aside.

China’s achievement in lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty is indeed an extraordinary feat. When the world (Australia excluded) points the finger at China’s failings without acknowledging its successes, it is right to remind us of such facts.

A defender of China’s policy in Tibet is quick to point out that, across most standard wellbeing indicators, including life expectancy, Tibetans appear in better shape than a half century ago. While discrepancies between official statistics and independent reports can be extreme, these claims probably hold an element of truth and have successfully won over many former detractors.

Nonetheless, such assertions are grossly misleading. For anyone fortunate enough to visit this beautiful part of the planet, a different picture soon emerges.

While today’s Tibetans may live longer than their grandparents, more significant is the wellbeing gap between Tibetans and the majority Han population. Displaced from their land yet unable to get a foothold in the new Han-dominated industries, innumerable Tibetans have been left unemployed and disenfranchised. The Tibet Autonomous Region has the onerous distinction of the widest rich-poor and urban-rural divides of anywhere in the People’s Republic of China.

While there are signs that the more moderate among China’s power elite are willing to take the Tibet issue more seriously, no government handouts can restore pride and identity to a people whose very way of life has been torn apart by their colonisers. No amount of “patriotic education” can shake a people’s attachment to their own heritage. And, as China’s litany of environmental mismanagement shows, no Beijing planners can understand the Tibetan plateau better than those who have flourished sustainably on the roof of the world for a thousand generations.

The homogenising effect of Chinese development policy and the steady erosion of Tibet’s unique culture are both a tragedy for Tibetans and an irreplaceable loss for the world at large. Strangely, the West’s penchant for all things Tibetan, be it the practical wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism or the Dalai Lama’s message of kindness and universal responsibility, is yet to be matched by any real concern for the wellbeing of the 6 million Tibetans.

As US power diminishes relative to China and Australia continues to deepen its ties to Beijing, it’s time for Australia to live up to its growing responsibilities in the region. With this in mind, how much longer are we willing to ignore Tibet?

Dr Simon Bradshaw is a director of the Australia Tibet Council and member of the Steering Committee of the International Tibet Network.


Filed under: Australia, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Communications, Culture, Democracy, Domestic Growth, Economics, Environment, Foreign aid, Greater China, Han, Human Rights, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, Media, Nationalism, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Social, Soft Power, Strategy, Territorial Disputes, The Age, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Tibet

2 Responses

  1. Benito says:

    Quick comment.. and note I did not read the full article. It wouldn’t load on my IPAD. The opening paragraph you highlight the author writes about how the feudal systems of past have been eliminated and that there is an economic boom in place. These two points are indeed true. However, I visited the given region… The freedom of expression (culturally and religiously), and even the dominion over the local people was so obvious and extreme, it made me think the way the white Spanish/ European Latin Americans treated, and to a certain degree still do… the indigenous people of the Americas… Was kind in comparison to what I saw with my owns when I visited in 2006.

    • Buddy I’ll definitely have to go and see for myself. Hopefully get a stint to volunteer in an NGO in the region to get first-hand ground sentiments; I’ll have to pick your brains and find out about your visit!

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