Sat, Jun 30, 2012 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Soft power in need of a backbone

The government has trumpeted its use of “soft power” over what it has called the confrontational policies of its predecessor, and has claimed many achievements in the international field as a result. However, it would appear that in some cases, noodles in a bowl of beef noodle soup contain more fiber.

Take the response of the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission this week after it was pressed by activists to speak to Beijing and urge it to respect the human rights and religious freedoms of Tibetans. The activists made the call on Tuesday, which happened to be the UN’s International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. How appropriate. They said that given the degree of interaction between the leaders on either side of the Taiwan Strait, it was Taiwan’s responsibility to press Beijing on this issue.

In response, the commission spokesman said the government has paid close attention to a wave of self-immolations by Tibetans and has urged China to respect human rights and religious freedoms.

He then went on to say the commission would not confront China with “extreme measures,” but that the government could try to exercise its influence on visiting Chinese officials by bringing them to government agencies responsible for ethnic minority affairs and to “show them how we handle such issues.”

Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission Minister Luo Ying-shay (羅瑩雪) made a similar claim about the efficacy of such exchanges back in March when she turned down an invitation from lawmakers to take part in a parade to mark the 53rd anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

She said the commission neither issues statements about the current situation in Tibet nor organizes events to commemorate the uprising because “it’s actually useless.” She said exchanges with Chinese officials were “a more effective way to help solve the Tibet issue.”

Since the government has not repressed the rights of Tibetans living here to exercise their religion and has not faced a wave of self-immolations, what exactly could government officials show visiting Chinese?

The Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission runs a cultural center housing regional clothing from the areas, photographs of Mt Kailash and religious artifacts, but hardly anyone visits. Talk about useless.

China does not need more examples of how to present Tibetan culture — it has the Lama Temple in Beijing with ersatz monks, an exhibition that seeks to prove Beijing’s claim to have run things there for hundreds of years, and it has been massaging the messages coming out of Lhasa for decades.

Tibetan government-in-exile Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay this week said the self-immolations were a message from an oppressed and desperate people who want to assert their freedom. “It’s not just that it’s a desperate act, but also a political act,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Peaceful protests, peaceful rallies are not allowed. The statements they leave behind consistently say they want freedom.”

In the face of such desperation, those who have the freedom to speak out have the moral imperative to do so, not just sit back and hope that “exchanges” with an arrogant and racist bureaucracy will somehow affect a modicum of change.

The freedoms the Tibetans so desperately seek are the ones we fought hard to achieve ourselves. That alone gives us the right to speak up for those that Beijing seeks to restrict and silence.

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