Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Where next for Tibet?

China promised human rights improvements to win the Olympics but Carole Reckinger says nothing will change once the eyes of the world are no longer watching

April 15, 2008
6 min read

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.

‘Cultural Genocide?’

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.

Beijing 2008

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/

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going