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Stop the bloodshed — freedom for Tibet!

By Tony Iltis

March 28, 2008 -- A demonstration by Buddhist monks in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, on March 10 to commemorate the anniversary of China’s crushing of the Tibetan independence movement in 1959 triggered protests for self-determination that, by March 14, had escalated into anti-Chinese riots in which 19 people were killed.

Over 100 Tibetans are reported to have been killed, and hundreds more arrested, by Chinese occupation forces.

This eruption of mass anger — that spread to cities throughout the Tibetan Autonomous Region and the neighbouring provinces of Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan, historically part of Tibet and with large ethnic Tibetan communities — was a response not only to the 58-year-old Chinese military occupation of Tibet, but to the dispossession and marginalisation of Tibetans by an influx of both global capital and Han Chinese transmigrants.


For Tibetans, the integration of Tibet into China’s rapidly growing economy has meant expropriation of land, loss of grazing rights, environmental destruction, discrimination in employment, education and economic opportunities and the prospect of becoming a dispossessed minority in their own country.

This has been accelerated by the linking of Lhasa to the Chinese railway system in July 2006, facilitating increased transmigration and export of copper and uranium. The profits from resource extraction are also exported.

The growth in the work force and commerce has largely involved non-Tibetans, who comprise 22% of Lhasa’s population according to official statistics — although the figure would be about 60% if migrant workers and military personnel were included.

There is 80% unemployment for ethnic Tibetans. The explosion of Tibetan anger on March 14 included attacks on Han Chinese and members of the Hui minority and the burning and looting of Han- and Hui-owned small businesses, something that has been emphasised by the Chinese government and official media who described the riots as a racist pogrom.

The Chinese government has also argued that the disturbances were orchestrated by the Dalai Lama, who has headed the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dhramsala, India, since he fled during the 1959 uprising. However, while he supported the initial March 10 protest by monks, the Dalai Lama has distanced himself from the spontaneous mass upsurge that followed, threatening to resign if violent protests continued.

Furthermore, the Dalai Lama has ruled out Tibetan independence despite this being a prominant demand of the protesters. After March 14, the Buddhist hierarchy inside Tibet also distanced itself from the protests.

The riots have revealed a gulf between the government-in-exile and the aspirations of Tibetans inside the country. Among the 300,000 Tibetans living in exile, mainly in India and Nepal, there are also tensions between the Dalai Lama’s leadership and the 30,000-strong Tibetan Youth Congress, which supports independence and refuses to rule out armed struggle.

“China does not deserve the Olympics because the human rights situation has deteriorated. Independence is the only solution”, TYC president Tsewang Rigzin told the March 18 British Times. The Dalai Lama has opposed boycotting this year’s Beijing Olympics.

While the Chinese government has portrayed the protests and riots as part of a Western plot to dismember China, the Western response has been restricted to vague calls for respect for human rights and “restraint” by both sides.

The response of Australian PM Kevin Rudd was typical. “Australia has a sophisticated relationship with China and there are areas, such as human rights, where the trading partners disagree. We are … going to prosecute a robust economic relationship, a robust foreign policy relationship”, he told ABC television’s 7.30 Report on March 27.


The Beijing portrayal of Tibet as an indivisable part of China is false. While at different times the theocratic nobility of Tibet recognised Chinese overlordship, historically they constituted seperate political entities.

A 1904 British invasion was repulsed in 1909 with Chinese help, but the 1911 Chinese revolution left Tibet as an effectively independent state until 1950 when it was occupied by troops of the Peoples Republic of China, established by the previous year’s revolution.

Initially the PRC left the Tibetan theocratic ruling class, headed by the Dalai Lama, intact.

However, a combination of popular opposition to the occupation troops, concerns by the nobility over the spectre of land reform and support from the CIA — who from 1956 were arming Tibetan nationalists as part of their attempts to roll back communism — led to the 1959 uprising, the flight of the Dalai Lama and the expropriation of the theocratic landowners.

While the land reform gave some benefits to the Tibetan people, the denial of national self-determination, discrimination in education and employment, and attacks on Tibetan culture and religion — which reached a peak during the “Cultural Revolution” of the late 1960s — meant that Tibetans remained hostile to Chinese rule.

In 1969 a mass uprising in Tibet was brutally suppressed.

The opening of China to foreign capital in the 1980s and ’90s and the transition to a capitalist market economy has exacerbated tensions in Tibet, whose role in China’s “miracle economy” is a source of raw materials and destination for transmigrants.

The integration of China into the global economy has meant that the West has ended support for Tibetan independence. Calls for the recognition of Tibetan rights and Western politicians’ relationship with the Dalai Lama have become a bargaining chip to be used with an economic partner that is sometimes a rival. The Dalai Lama’s renunciation of the goal of independence in 1994 reflects his closeness to the West.

However, the history of the Tibetan struggle being promoted in the West for its own ends during the Cold War, and in some cases the illusions created that Tibet under the theocratic landowning class was some kind of spiritual paradise, has meant that the Tibetan cause remains relatively popular among people in the West, including high-profile “celebrity activists”, such as actor Richard Gere.

Spiritual paradise?

Support based on the “spiritual paradise” myth mirrors the Chinese portrayal of the Tibetan struggle as a struggle against modernity.

In a 1997 interview with the PBS Frontline program, Tibetan journalist Jamyang Norbu said, “I think, primarily the West sees Tibet, to some extent, as a fantasy land, as a Shangri La. Of course, this is a kind of stereotype that has existed in the Western kind of perception for a very long time, even before the movie Lost Horizon was made …

“There’s a kind of New Age perception of Tibet … The idea [is] that even [the] materialist west will be saved by the spiritualism of the Tibetan Buddhists. It’s total nonsense …

“This is the problem that Tibetans face, because their issues and the tragedy of Tibet has not being taken seriously. Primarily, it’s very fuzzy; it’s sort of a feel good issue, rather than a stark, ugly reality. A lot of people love Tibetans in the West, tremendous sympathy, but it’s a very fuzzy kind of sympathy, because it never touches on the reality.”

Norbu explained: “When I talk about my politics, about my country, oftentimes the critics I get are not Chinese or other Tibetans, but Westerners. They say, ‘How dare you contradict the Dalai Lama? How dare you say Tibetans should take up arms against the Chinese?’ And, I reply to them, ‘I’m a Tibetan. This is my country. These are issues that are close to me.’

“Whether the Tibetans want to get their country back [through] peace or violence or whatever, that’s their business.”

Rather than resisting modernity, Tibetans are resisting a modernisation process being forced on them by an occupying power and whose benefits they have been excluded from. Norbu raised the spectre of Tibetans suffering the fate of indigenous people in North America, being confined to reservations, a “sort of broken third-rate people … begging from tourists”.

Meanwhile, the Chinese authorities are attempting to reimpose “normality” in Tibet through an overwhelming military presence. On March 27 they felt secure enough to invite the first group of foreign journalists into Tibet since the protests started for a stagemanaged visit to a Lhasa temple. However, this did not go as the authorities planned, when 30 younger monks gatecrashed the event shouting pro-independence slogans.


Reaping Tibet’s Whirlwind

Reaping Tibet’s Whirlwind
Andrew Martin FISCHER
20 March 2008

No matter how hard Beijing tries to salvage its international public image and to convince its own domestic public otherwise, its public relations myth that all things are calm on its western Tibetan front, whether through military might or economic greed, has been shattered. The international media has treated the current crisis in Tibet as if it has happened suddenly, almost unexpectedly, out of the blue. Thus many ask, “How did this happen?” “Why now?" Unfortunately, many of us who have been researching Tibet for many years and have been visiting the region regularly have been sadly predicting the current events.

Beijing has been exacerbating conflictive tensions throughout the Tibetan areas with its “western development” strategies since the mid-1990s. These strategies include an all-out push for rapid growth with massive amounts of subsidies and subsidized investments channeled through Chinese corporations based outside the Tibetan areas; an open immigration policy; an absence of protection of local Tibetan employment despite severe educational lags and a severe undersupply of education infrastructure relative to the rest of China; and an assimilationist agenda within education policy.

In a nutshell, the very mechanisms by which Beijing has been attempting to resolve the “Tibet Question” through the force of rapid growth has in fact been reinforcing underlying political and social tensions due to the marginalization of Tibetans in the face of such growth.

In other words, Beijing has been trying to convince us that the marginally improving material conditions of the average Tibetan somehow absolve all previous sins. Yet superficial incantations of statistical indicators tell us little about people’s ability to control their lives within the context of the dramatic social and economic changes that lie behind such statistics. They tell us little about self-determination. They tell us little about disempowerment. And they tell us little about why people might become increasingly discontent amidst rising average levels of prosperity.

The underlying political and social tensions are obviously related to the fact that Tibet—all of Tibet, not just the Tibet Autonomous Region—is an occupied territory. Disputes of political history aside, the Tibetan areas are ruled by non-Tibetans, and this rule has been exercised through force rather than social consent, in the Maoist past as in the present “New China.” This is a problem that will not disappear, no matter how much Beijing continues to assert that Tibetans are in fact Chinese (i.e. citizens of China).

However, recent trends have sharply exacerbated this fundamental source of contention.

The first and most fundamental has been Beijing’s fast track strategy to “develop” Tibet through the force of massive amounts of subsidies and subsidized investments, the newly constructed railway being one such example. These strategies have resulted in rapidly rising inequalities, to a level much higher than that observed anywhere else in China, where rising inequality is already a source of great concern. Rising inequality is not only occurring between urban and rural areas, but also within the urban areas themselves, dismissing facile arguments that ethnic inequalities are merely a reflection of rural poverty.

The fact that subsidies and subsidized investments have been mostly channeled through the vehicle of (Han) Chinese companies based outside the Tibetan areas, or else through the government itself, results in an economic structure that rewards a small upper crust of the society, mostly based in the urban areas. This upper crust, which includes a minority of Tibetans, advantages those who are well positioned to access the flows of wealth passing through the region. I have likened this to “boomerang aid,” with the result that such aid often decapitates the agency of its intended beneficiary.

These strategies result in strong ethnic, cultural and even linguistic biases with growth. Those who profit handsomely possess Chinese fluency, good connections to economic and political centers in China Proper, and thrive in Chinese work cultures. However, only about 15% of the Tibetan population has some form of secondary education and thus some degree of Chinese fluency, given that Chinese-medium education generally only starts in secondary school. As a result, the remaining 85% are poorly positioned to integrate into the urban economic boom.

The second oft-noted trend is a corollary of the first; the in-migration of non-Tibetans (most Han Chinese) from elsewhere in China. The railway has increased the number of these migrants, although this is primarily due to subsidies, not the existence of the railway infrastructure itself. These migrants are coming to Lhasa because they can make large profits in the midst of the abnormal subsidy-induced economic bubble, not because they can travel more comfortably to Lhasa. This trend has been the focus of intense disputes, although they are purely an urban phenomenon and their importance can only be understood in the context of the larger economic policies.

The third trend has been the abandonment of most previously-existing mechanisms to protect local labor in the context of such out-of-province migrant inflows. This trend is particularly important because it affects the upward aspirations of many relatively well educated urban Tibetan youths. For instance, the government recently ended its policy of guaranteeing employment for local high school and university graduates. As elsewhere in China, the old system has been replaced with competitive exams for the coveted posts of state-sector employment, although the exams, as elsewhere in China, are in the Chinese language. As a result, even relatively well educated Tibetans are easily out-competed by Han Chinese migrants, even Han Chinese migrants from Chinese rural areas.

These policy changes therefore offer insight into why Tibetan youth in particular might feel so disaffected by current growth. For instance, in 2006 there was a large demonstration of Tibetan university graduates in Lhasa over the fact that out of 100 jobs that the government offered in open competition, only two were given to ethnic Tibetans. The government has generally responded to this situation by evoking a faith in the power of “the market” that would probably embarrass even Milton Friedman.

The fourth trend has been the tightening of political control by the government in response to rising tensions. This has especially been the case in the Tibetan areas of Sichuan, where increasing nationalistic agitation over the past several years has been a cause for alarm in both Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, and Beijing. National and provincial governments across Tibet have responded by replacing existing leaders with more hard-line leaders and more repressive strategies of political control.

In this context of reaction and counter-reaction, what is utterly unprecedented in the demonstrations of last week was their duration. The fact that they turned violent on the fifth day in Lhasa appears to have been a popular reaction to the severity of repression carried out by the security forces during the previous four days of nonviolent protests.

What hope does the future hold? The international response has been muted and there is little hope for more, particularly in light of the fact that most governments around the world have recognized Tibet as part of China, and thus an internal affair of China. Rather, resolution must arise from within the seat of power—Beijing.

The crisis presents two possibilities. The Central Government can continue its fast track assimilationist development strategies that severely disadvantage, disempower and alienate the large majority of Tibetans, including many elite Tibetans.

Or else, after a period of looking tough and saving face, the Central Government might take the opportunity to critically introspect its dominant strategy of the last 20 years. Having deemed this a failure for the purpose of achieving harmony and stability, it might then turn to a more culturally sensitive and preferential development strategy, one that protects local Tibetan labor in the face of disadvantage and rapid change, and one that would be coordinated with Tibetan-medium education policies.

This is the core meaning of autonomy. Autonomy need not represent anything threatening to Beijing. In fact, the already-existing minority nationality laws of China could allow for many of the latter policies without any change to the Chinese constitution or legal regime. For instance, the existing laws could allow for the stipulation that state-sector employees working in minority nationality areas must have a degree of proficiency in the respective minority language. This would immediately give a strong competitive advantage to local Tibetans over non-Tibetan migrants and would also bolster support for a Tibetan-medium education system. Such a strategy would go a long way toward addressing many of the underlying grievances driving the current protests.

Indeed, some of these policies were permitted, tried and tested in parts of Tibet during the early reform period in the 1980s. However, Tibetan demonstrations and Tiananmen in 1989 brought an end to such experiments and the return of hardliners and their assimilationist agenda, this time under the guise of market socialism rather than Maoism.

Those who are cynical often suggest that Beijing has intentionally designed its policies to marginalize Tibetans and to assimilate them into the Motherland in a subordinated and even racist manner, perhaps in much the same way that the U.S., Canada and Australia had dealt with their own aboriginal populations throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Perhaps, although some of us still carry hope that an element of humanism might reside within the socialist garb of the Chinese Communist Party. Or does the emperor really have no clothes?

* From the Far eastern Economic Review, Vol. 171 No. 3, March 2008:

* Dr. Fischer, a fellow at the London School of Economics, is the author of “State Growth and Social Exclusion in Tibet: Challenges of Recent Economic Growth” (Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Press, 2005). This is the first in a series of articles on the ongoing crisis in Tibet.

Socialist Action (USA) on Tibet

Turmoil Erupts in Tibet

by Adam Ritscher / March 2008

Tibet is again the topic of conversation around the world. And this time it’s not the result of some Hollywood movie, but rather the bloody clashes that have broken out there between Tibetan protesters and Chinese police. While a lot of details are still hazy as a result of a systematic attempt by Chinese authorities to control the news coming out of the region, the clashes appear to have begun with a series of demonstrations organized by Tibetans to mark the 49th anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising against China. The demonstrations began on March 10. By March 14 the demonstrations appear to have evolved into riots in which non-ethnic Tibetans were attacked, and numerous shops, cars and other properties, including a mosque, were set on fire.

The protests and clashes began in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, but have since spread to other parts of Tibet, as well as neighboring provinces of China that have large ethnic Tibetan populations, such as Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan. There was even reportedly a protest by Tibetan students in China’s capital of Beijing.

The Chinese government’s response to these protests has in most places been swift and brutal. Using tear gas, electric cattle prods, and in some instances, guns, Chinese police have forcefully broken up marches, broke into monasteries and raided homes of suspected Tibetan independence activists. There have reportedly been numerous beatings and a number of fatalities. The Chinese government has so far admitted that 22 people have died in the conflict, though claiming that most were non-Tibetans who were burned alive or killed by rioting Tibetan mobs. On the other hand, the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan government-in-exile claims that over 100 people have been killed, most of them Tibetan protesters at the hands of the Chinese.

These clashes have resulted in a flurry of denunciations of China by capitalist governments around the world, and has led to some to call for a Western boycott of the upcoming 2008 Summer Olympic games to be held in Beijing. An array of well known figures, from Richard Gere to Nancy Pelosoi have sided with the Tibetan protesters, and denounced China’s rule over Tibet.

History of Tibet

Tibet as a political entity began with a series of kingdoms starting in the 7th century. Over the centuries since then its borders have ebbed and flowed dramatically over the mountains ranges and plateaus of central Asia. Almost from its inception though, Tibet has had a complex relationship with China. For much of its history Tibet has been a vassal state of China, afforded a large amount of autonomy in exchange for recognition of the ultimate authority of the Chinese emperor.

During these early centuries Tibet became a Buddhist country. By the late 1300s its political and spiritual leadership became consolidated in the form of the Dalai Lama. The title and office of Dalai Lama was awarded to a prominent Tibetan monk by a Mongolian ruler, and since then the Dalai Lama has allegedly reincarnated 12 times (The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is considered the 14th Dalai Lama because the first person to be given the title Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso, is now considered to have been the 3rd Dalai Lama, and the first and second Dalai Lama were given that title posthumously.).

While many of the current Dalai Lama’s supporters in the West consider these centuries to have been Tibet’s golden era, the reality couldn’t have been farther from the truth for the majority of Tibet’s people. Under the Dalai Lama’s the majority of Tibet’s people lived in grinding conditions of poverty in a highly stratified social order. While the top echelons of Tibet’s monastic orders, and the members of the 200 noble families, lived lives of luxury, the majority of peasants were locked in serfdom, forced to grow food and provide labor for the elites. Taxes were crushing, and debt bondage was passed on from generation to generation. Serfs could not get married or move without permission, were told what crops to grow and what animals to raise, and could be separated from their families at the whim of their lord. They could be sold or traded. Any attempt by serfs to leaves their owning lords, or in some other way buck the social order, resulted in brutal corporal punishment, or death.

At the top of this feudal like system the Dalai Lama literally towered over the population in his massive 1000 room main palace, the Potala. The Dalai Lama’s were absolute rulers, and had the power of life and death over the Tibetan people. They awarded massive amounts of land, and thousands of accompanying serfs to their favorites in a patronage system that would make many modern crooked politicians blush. The commander of the Tibetan army, for example, was awarded 4000 square kilometers and 3500 serfs. And this system remained in place right up to the mid-twentieth century.

Following the Chinese Revolution of 1912, in which the Chinese emperor was overthrown and a republic was established, Tibet declared its independence. While China refused to recognize Tibet’s claim to independence, and no other government extended official recognition to it either, China was unable to assert any control as a result of the political turmoil, Japanese invasions and civil war that engulfed the nation for the next four decades.

Following the victory of the Mao Zedong’s Communist Party in the Chinese Revolution of 1949, China prepared to re-occupy Tibet. An army was sent in 1950 and occupied several regions of Tibet, easily defeating the Tibetan army. Stopping short of the Lhasa, the Chinese demanded that the Dalai Lama recognize China’s authority. Subsequently a deal was made where Tibet would once again become part of China, but the Dalai Lama could remain as a spiritual leader.

Initially the Chinese occupation appears to have been rather popular, especially among Tibet’s poor. Even the current Dalai Lama has stated how well behaved the Chinese soldiers initially were, and how well received a number of the reforms they introduced were. Lands was distributed to the peasants, the caste system was done away with, women were granted equal rights, as were ethnic minorities, and secular education and health care was introduced.

But there reforms were naturally not popular among the deposed elites – particularly the former large landowning monks and secular nobility. It was this strata that initiated a rebellion against Chinese rule. The rebellion began in 1956 in the Chinese provinces neighboring Tibet that had large Tibetan populations. In these provinces the land reform was carried much more quickly and in a more complete fashion, than in Tibet proper, were the Chinese took a more gradual approach. Soon though the rebellion spread to Tibet proper, and culminated in a major uprising in 1959.

The Chinese were easily able to crush the rebellion, in part because of the ineffective tactics used by the Tibetan rebels, but also because the Tibetan population was divided in its response to the Chinese occupation. It was during this uprising that the current Dalai Lama fled to India, where he set up a government-in-exile. Somewhere between 80,000 to 1000,000 Tibetans followed him into India, many of them monks, where India has allowed them to set up their own communities and institutions, and the Dalai Lama basically runs a mini-state.

During this time the U.S. imperialists seized the opportunity to cause turmoil in Red China by aiding the Tibetan rebels. While the main uprising was crushed in 1959, in some remote parts of Tibet insurgents continued the fight. Working closely with the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile, several hundred Tibetans were taken to Camp Hale in Colorado and trained in guerilla warfare. These agents were then parachuted into Tibet to hook up with resistance groups. Millions of dollars and significant amounts of arms were also smuggled in, and a base of operations was set up for the fighters across the border in the Mustang region of Nepal. The Dalai Lama also appealed for help directly for his government-in-exile from the CIA and from the anti-communist Nationalist Chinese government in Taiwan. The CIA responded by giving his government tens of millions of dollars. This aid continued until the early 1970s, when the U.S. government stopped aiding Tibetan rebels as part of its establishing diplomatic relations with Mao’s China.

During this time, the initial support that the Chinese government had enjoyed from some layers of Tibet’s poor evaporated in the wake of ever increasing repression. This repression reached its most brutal peak during China’s Cultural Revolution, when thousands of Tibetan monasteries and religious monuments were looted and destroyed. But China’s repressive policies continue, albeit in a slightly more subtle ways. While many monasteries and cultural monuments have been restored in hopes of attracting Western tourists, China still places considerable restriction on Tibet’s monks. More significantly, ethnic Han Chinese have been allowed to move to Tibet and now occupy many of the most important government posts and control a large piece of Tibet’s trade and commerce (the number of ethnic Han Chinese now living in Tibet is widely disputes, with the Dalai Lama claiming they now outnumber ethnic Tibetans, and the Chinese government claiming they only represent a small percentage of the overall population).

Tibet Today

The tensions that recently erupted into the ongoing protests happening today in Tibet are the result of China’s repressive and exploitative policies. While formally Tibet in an “Autonomous Region” of China, Beijing exercises nearly total control over Tibetan life. It’s safe to say that the large majority of Tibetans are opposed to China’s rule. Likewise, while on paper the Tibetan economy is booming, and the standard of living is improving, this boom has largely benefited ethnic Han Chinese. For the rest of the population, development has been very uneven, and has often come at a high cultural and ecological price. Tibetans are in many ways prisoners in their own country.

Among Tibetans though there appears to be a division between supporters of the Dalai Lama and more militant activists. The Dalai Lama has claimed that he does not support independence from China any more, and instead wants only cultural autonomy. His position basically boils down to a “leave the lamas” alone position, leaving political and military power in the hands of China. This is by no means a popular position among many Tibetans, most of whom seem to favor complete independence. Even the parliament of the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile has at times refused to endorse his position on accepting only limited autonomy.

There has also been conflict between the Dalai Lama and many independence activists over what type of tactics to use. While historically the Dalai Lamas have had no qualms about maintaining armies and using violent force, and even the current Dalai Lama gave his blessing to armed resistance against China in the past, he today calls for only non-violent tactics. During the recent uprising the Dalai Lama went so far as to denounce most of the protests, and has threatened to resign his political post in the government-in-exile (though not his spiritual post) if further violence occurs. Many Tibetan activists on the ground, particularly among the youth, seem to view the Dalai Lama’s pacifism as detached from reality, and as having failed to gain any concessions from China so far.

The Dalai Lame continues to be a popular figure, by most accounts, among the average Tibetan, but his authority is not universally accepted. Nor is his direction automatically followed. It should also be said that in talking about some of the more brutal aspects of Tibet’s past under the Dalai Lamas, including himself, the current Dalai Lama has expressed some remorse. In reading the Dalai Lama’s writings, and listening to his speeches, we certainly seem to have a case of a ruler who sounds a lot better now that he is out of power than when he was in. But at the same time, he remains wedded to at least a partial return to Tibet’s dark ages.

What is To Be Done?

While Socialist Action gives no political support to the Dalai Lama, and certainly has no nostalgia for the brutal feudal like system that existed in Tibet under the rule of the Dalai Lamas, we believe that the Tibetan people deserve the right to self-determination, up to and including full independence. The Tibetan people have a unique history and culture, together with their own language and national consciousness.

China’s claims to Tibet basically boil down to the fact that for most of the rule of the Dalai Lamas they accepted that they were vassals of the Chinese emperors. While this is the type of claim one would expect from an imperialist nation, it’s laughable that China’s Stalinist rulers, who call themselves Marxists, would use such an argument. While the Chinese Stalinists claim that the right of self-determination only applies to oppressed nationalities being occupied by advanced capitalist nations, we believe that the right of self-determination belongs to all oppressed nationalities, period. China has no right to determine the future of Tibet, only the Tibetan people have the right – in the same way that only the Chinese people have the right to determine China’s future.

The issue of Tibetan self-determination though is complicated by the fact that many imperialist powers, the U.S. first among them, claim to also be supporters of Tibetan freedom. Seeking to grasp onto any club that will help it in its economic, political and military competition with China, the U.S. ruling class has hypocritically wrapped itself in a number of righteous causes when it comes to China – from the right of religious minorities to practice their beliefs, to even the right of workers to form independent trade unions! It also must be said that many of the liberals and celebrities in the West who have become champions of Tibet do so from a position of anti-communism, and support for their idealized perception of Tibet’s old feudal like system.

The fact that these dubious characters though have jumped on board the bandwagon of Tibet does not negate the rights of the Tibetan people to self-determination. While it would be a mistake to make common cause in any way with the U.S. State Department and CIA on one hand, or the Dalai Lama’s project to revive Tibet’s dark ages on the other, it is right and necessary for workers and progressives the world over to defend the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination. National liberation movements often take on religious garb, and they likewise sometimes attract the poisonous support of misc. capitalist governments as part of the imperialists’ chess games to gain advantage over their rivals. But that does not negate the basic democratic right of oppressed peoples to their own state, and control over their own destiny. The role of Marxists is to expose the false support that the U.S. government and the Dalai Lama, et al are offering the people of Tibet, and to support the Tibetan workers and farmers in their just fight to determine their own future. In that spirit, we support the protesters in Tibet, we support their call for Tibetan independence, and we call for China’s immediate withdrawal.

Socialist Unity blog: China's army of occupation -- in Haiti



pap-in-haiti.jpgThe picture shows part of the thousand strong contingent of Chinese troops from the Peoples’ Armed Police (PAP) who Beijing sent to participate in the occupation of Haiti.

Haiti has been in turmoil in recent weeks due to a disastrous rise in food prices, and the general decline in living standards since the invasion by France and the USA, backed by Canada, in February 2004. Laughably, the pretext of their invasion was to defend democracy, but occupation troops from both the Peoples’ Republic of China and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan are from countries whose governments are not elected. They deposed a democratically elected government, that was still overwhelmingly popular with most of the country’s citizens. Reporting from Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, in March 2004, the BBC’s correspondent was obliged to concede that, whereas Aristide was ‘universally reviled’ by the wealthy elite, he was still almost as universally supported by the great majority of the urban poor

Four people have been killed and 20 injured in the recent protests, and shops were looted as pro-democracy protestors clashed with security forces. Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis has been forced to resign.

Since the invasion, living standards have collapsed, and the reforms of president Aristide aimed to help the poor have been reversed. The UN World Food Programme said last week it has received so far only 13 per cent (or US$12.4 million) of the US$96 million necessary to assist 1.7 million people in Haiti.) Haitians literally face starvation under the barrels of UN rifles.

According to Haiti Action, Since the Chinese troops arrived in 2004, they have been supporting the Haitian police in their crackdown on supporters of the reforming President Aristide, deposed by the French and American invasion. They were involved along with Brazilian soldiers in a week-long siege of the community of Bel Air in June 2005, and during that operation, the Haitian police burned down more than twelve homes in the area and more than 30 people were reportedly gunned down in the panic that ensued. The Chinese were also accused by members of Aristide’s Lavalas movement of taking video and photographs during peaceful demonstrations that are later used to persecute them.

So this is a paradox. French President Sarkosy is threatening to boycott the Beijing Olympics because of Chinese “occupation” of Tibet. But France invaded the independent soveriegn state of Haiti only four years ago, and has since cooperated with a Chinese occupation force in Haiti?

Amid the claims that France intervened in Haiti out of humanitarian concern, we might point out that they did have a very clear economic and political interest in the overthrow of the Aristide government.

As Peter Hallward explains in New Left Review: following US financial sanctions introduced by the Clinton administration the desperately cash-starved Aristide attempted to rally his countrymen in April 2003 with the demand that, in the bicentennial year of Haitian independence, France should reimburse the 90 million francs that Haiti had been forced to pay between 1825 and 1947 as compensation for the loss of slave owners’ property. Assuming a low return of 5 per cent in annual interest, he calculated that the sum was now equivalent to 21 billion American dollars. Aristide got a lot of support for this demand both inside and outside of Haiti, particularly in Africa and Latin America. Unlike most slavery-related reparation demands currently in the air, the Haitian claim refers to a precise and documented sum of money extracted in hard currency by the colonial power.

This was a huge diplomatic embarrassment for France one of the richest countries in the world, exposed for having extorted a fortune from the most impoverished country in the Western hemisphere, and stunted its economic development for more than a century. Within a year of the reparations claim being made French troops were on the streets of Port-au-Prince, and the grateful Haitian mobsters installed by the French and Americans to replace Aristide dropped the claim against France.

I will write a follow up article about Chinese foreign policy, which explains how they ended up in this sort of situation in Haiti, but for now let us just marvel at the hypocrisy of the French government.

The French have even played their own small role in training the Chinese how to supress protests: during a videotaped interview in 2007, information officer with the Chinese force in Haiti, Zhang Jin said , “We have the firepower and technology to control any situation that may arise here. What we gain from this experience is a real life situation where we can practice strategic and tactical deployment. That is invaluable to any fighting force.”

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