Fri, Mar 21, 2008 - Page 9 News List

The West and Beijing must share shame over the Tibet crisis

Western governments have focused too much on Beijing's economic clout and not enough on its illegitimacy, which helps to explain their meek responses

By Simon Tisdall  /  THE GUARDIAN, LONDON

China's anger and embarrassment over the Tibet protests is keenly felt and will not be easily assuaged. Its sense of betrayal is as striking as its inability to comprehend the cause of it. But Beijing's shame is widely shared. The unrest has confronted Western governments with inconvenient truths for which they plainly have no answers.

In the short term the hosts of the Beijing Olympics know they must act cautiously as the world watches, its running shoes in hand. Having been forced belatedly to acknowledge the scale of the trouble, Beijing cannot afford an even wider, more brutal public crackdown, its instinctive reaction to similar situations in the past.

State retaliation in the weeks and months ahead is likely to be stealthy and silent. For those who dared to make a stand, vengeance will come by night, in an unmarked car or an unheralded knock on the door.

This is typically how China deals with dissent, as Hu Jia (胡佳), a prominent human rights activist who went on trial for subversion on Tuesday, could testify.

Yet in blaming the Dalai Lama and his "clique" for organizing a conspiracy of sabotage, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) missed the mark. Tibet's exiled spiritual leader has long promoted an autonomous accommodation with, not independence from, China. It is younger generations of Tibetans, inside and outside the country, who increasingly call the shots and pursue more robust tactics.

An editorial in the Communist Party mouthpiece the Tibet Daily appeared to acknowledge this shift -- while revealing the true extent of Chinese fury.


"These lawless elements have insulted, beaten, and wounded duty personnel, shouted reactionary slogans, stormed vital departments, and gone to all lengths in beating, smashing, looting, and burning," it said. "Their atrocities are appalling and too horrible to look at and their frenzy is inhuman. Their atrocities of various kinds teach and alert us to the fact that this is a life-and-death struggle between the enemy and ourselves."

This official "us versus them" view implies there will be no quick end to the disturbances or the retaliation. Horrific photographs of 13 people allegedly killed at Kirtii monastery in Aba (Ngawa) town, Sichuan Province, by Chinese security forces and released on Tuesday by the Free Tibet campaign will meanwhile stoke opposition fires.

The next flashpoint could be Beijing's plan to relay the Olympic torch through Lhasa and other ethnic Tibetan areas on its journey from Greece to Beijing.

Another so-called Chinese "renegade province," Taiwan, has already refused to take part. Tibet was not given a choice.

The broader prospect now, unnerving for a Chinese leadership that has staked so much on a showpiece, self-validating Games, is of trouble continuing right through until August.

This is a worrying prospect for Western leaders, too. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said that he will meet the Dalai Lama when he visits Britain in May. If so, it will enrage Beijing, even more than German Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent meeting with the Tibetan leader.

All Brown's commercial and business networking during his China trip earlier this year could be undone.

Earlier, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband tied himself up in knots when asked about a possible meeting, refusing to say whether the government would welcome it while insisting that the issue would be dealt with "in a very straightforward and appropriate way." It's a safe bet that London hopes the Dalai Lama won't come after all.

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