Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
As the Olympic torch moves along its 137,000 kilometer journey, it leaves a smoky trail of pro-Tibetan and other human rights related protests. The celebrities and athletes carrying the torch hidden behind a phalanx of Chinese flame attendants and police officers on bikes. There’s still four months to go but the Olympic consumer brand looks tarnished.
Recently, the Chinese president, Hu Jintao insisted that Beijing’s handling of the upheaval was its own affair while the Chinese Ambassador to the UK accused the Western media of demonizing China. At the same time the International Olympic Committee (IOC) reiterated that it will not intervene to pressure China on Tibet or any other political issue.
There is a risk that the perceptions of the West and people in China are drifting in opposite directions. I have witnessed a number of passionate debates between my pro-Tibetan and Chinese friends. The same issues always reoccur: ‘have you been to Tibet?’ ‘why didn’t you raise this before the Olympics?’ and Tibet has been part of China for the last x hundred years. But the outrage should not be targeted against the Chinese people but against the destruction of a way of life by the Chinese state.
The Chinese authorities promised the IOC and the international community concrete improvements in human rights to win the 2008 Olympics for Beijing but nothing much has happened and the recent jailing of human rights activist Hu Jia reflects the hardening stance towards dissent. Sophie Richardson, Asia Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, declared that ‘Hu Jia’s sentence shows that you can’t defend human rights in China without becoming a case yourself … His arrest was unjustified, his trial unfair and his sentence unwarranted.’ Furthermore, Chinese security forces are still struggling to stamp out flaring violence in areas of Tibetan China.
The Tibetan revolt of 2008, like those in 1987 and 1959 will be crushed by the overwhelming might of the Chinese military. The current protests are unlikely to result in anything more than the temporary re-imposition of military rule and further repression. As Hu Jintao reiterated the aspirations of greater autonomy, independence or even political unity of the Tibetan areas is extremely threatening to the Chinese state. The Chinese regard Tibet as historically part of China and consider the Dalai Lama, and his followers, as doctrinaire reactionaries opposing the social and economic progress that China brings to what they consider a backward province.
So why do the Tibetans oppose Chinese tutelage and the economic and social progress they have brought? Firstly, many Tibetans feel excluded from the development and money that China pours into their homeland. Chinese migrants are resented by Tibetans, who argue that they take the best jobs. The Dalai Lama has accused China of ‘cultural genocide,’ that this influx has been devastating and with China gaining political, economic and military control in Tibet. The Tibetans have slowly become marginalised and a minority in their own land. China’s consistently uses excessive military force to stifle dissent has resulted in widespread human rights abuses, including political imprisonment, torture and execution. At least 60 deaths have been documented by human rights groups since 1987 and the names of over 700 Tibetan political prisoners have been confirmed. Many are detained without charge or trial under ‘reeducation through labour’ administrative regulations.
China’s crackdown on the monk-led rallies in Lhasa is part of a long history of the Chinese state’s control of the monasteries and Buddhist orders. This started almost as soon as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) marched into Tibet in 1950. Following the invasion, Tibet’s culture was suppressed and more than 6000 monasteries, temples and historic buildings were destroyed.
China’s grip on the Buddhist order became very visible in 1995, when the Dalai Lama named the new reincarnation of the Panchen Lama (second only to the Dalai Lama in terms of spiritual seniority). The selected six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his immediate family disappeared within days and his whereabouts remain unknown. The Tibetan government in exile claims he continues to be the youngest political prisoner in the world while the Chinese government asserts he is leading a normal life somewhere in China, his whereabouts secret to protect him. Soon after his disappearance, the Chinese government announced that it had found the real Panchen Lama, a six-year-old who happened to be the son of two Tibetan Communist Party workers. Most monks regard him as a false lama, though he is venerated by ordinary Tibetans.
The Chinese and other Olympic supporters argue that the games are about sports and not politics. The promotion of the Olympic spirit, however, includes upholding ethics in sports and encouraging respect for human rights. The games are a sporting event, but nonetheless involve international norms and shared values. The Chinese accuse the Dalai Lama of trying to boycott the games and ignore his repeated statements that he wants the Olympic Games to go ahead. He states that while the Chinese deserve the Games, activists are entitled to nonviolent protests.
Protests and boycotts are part of the Olympics. To mention two examples, in 1908 Irish athletes, angered at the refusal of Britain to give Ireland its independence boycotted the London Games and the 1956 Melbourne Games were boycotted by Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon because of the Suez invasion by Britain and France. The biggest boycott took place in 1980 when 62 countries led by the United States stayed away from Moscow following the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan the previous year.
It is still unclear what affect the crisis in Tibet will have in the long-term. The options for Tibetans are changing, many are increasingly frustrated as they see little sign of progress after decades of waiting. Young Tibetans are becoming increasingly impatient with the Dalai Lama’s peaceful means. Although they remain loyal, they believe that confrontation might be more effective for securing their rights. While the spotlight is still on China, it cannot afford to crack down too hard on the Tibetan people. During the last upheaval in 1987, very few in the West knew where Tibet was, let alone its tragic history. The Chinese government responded with executions, arbitrary arrests and torture. China was still a relatively isolated country and did not need international opinion on their side. Nineteen years on, much has changed, The Dalai Lama has raised Tibet’s profile and China has ‘opened up.’ Admitted to the WTO, secured billions in corporate capital and is hosting the 2008 Olympics, nonetheless, as the Burmese can testify, public and media attention can shift very quickly. Many of those protesting in Tibet know they might die in one of the many secret prison cells. When the world is no longer watching, they might be killed along with those that risked all to get the focus of the world.
Carole Reckinger is a freelance writer, more of her articles can be read at http://1000forgottenstories.wordpress.com/
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
Empire en Vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy
Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.