March 17 is St. Patrick’s day, and we Christians of Irish or other European ancestry owe this man for spreading the faith among the heathens. We pretend to be Irish for one day and cheapen the saint’s actual feats by drinking green beer and carousing. But it’s all in good fun, and, after centuries of struggle, Ireland is, for the most part, a free nation.
Tibet, on the other hand, is under the harsh boot of the communist Chinese. Has been since 1951. Over one million Tibetans were killed or caused to die by starvation by the Chinese. The ruler, the Dalai Lama, was forced into exile this very day in 1959. The Dalai Lama left Tibet, and arrived in India on 31 March that same year, never to return.
The oppression of Tibet has continued, with, among other things, ethnic Han Chinese (and other non-Tibetans) populating Tibet. The last serious clashes with the Chinese dictators was in 1989. It looks as though the troubles are starting again, only this time in the instant news-cycle of 2008.
From the Wall Street Journal, the basics:
The confrontation started with a peaceful protest led by monks last Monday, the anniversary of Tibet’s national uprising against China in 1959, nine years after Chinese troops invaded. Beijing’s swift response — arresting several of the monks — led to further protests, which escalated to mob violence in Lhasa on Friday. Cars were burned, shops looted and witnesses reported gunfire; state-run media said 10 civilians died in fires. The Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala says the death toll is at least 80.
China has controlled Tibet for more than half a century, and across those years countless Tibetans have been killed and thousands of monasteries have been destroyed. It is still forbidden to display a photograph of the Dalai Lama in Tibet, much less call for freedom of religion, speech or assembly.
Well, as cynics are quick to point out, there’s a lot of sadness in this world. The real question before the house is this: what’s to be done about this obvious trampling of human rights in Asia?
The answer is that we’re not about to go to war with China about this issue. Just as when we sell our souls for oil from the vile and corrupt regimes of the Midddle East, we have sold our souls to the Chinese for a mess of pottage.
In fact, we and the Chinese are quite used to doing the international equivalent of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kabuki dance. We basically turn a blind official eye to their human rights violations; they in turn grease the skids and keep those cheap consumer goods coming our way. Both sides benefit economically, and no sane American politician is going to urge us to cut off trade with China over Tibet (or any other human rights violations).
So, back to the question: what to do? How about if we start by officially condemning China in every public venue we can find? How about if we actually do start to use our trade as a leverage, understanding that it will hurt consumers in America, but might actually, when combined with the strongest possible diplomatic pressures, help bring some measure of freedom to Tibet?
Getting back to politicians, sane and otherwise: in this campaign year, we’ve heard much nonsense about NAFTA and the alleged evils of free trade and the alleged need to improve working conditions in hellholes such as Canada (that’s sarcasm, just in case any of my humor-impaired Canadian friends read this).
While there are quite a few urging that all workers around the world be paid a “living wage,” I can’t recall any significant politician urging us to boycott Chinese imports over human rights. Yes, we can, and should, as individuals, consciously avoid buying products made in China. But this is akin to King Canute ordering the tide to turn, and will likely have as much effect.
What we can do is start by doing what was done in 1980 in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan: boycott the coming Olympics to be held in Beijing. That would hurt Beijing. More than symbolic, and just a start. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, we might find the courage to grow a backbone and stand tall for freedom in Tibet.