Tibet and the `Olympic tradition'
Below are two articles discussing the protests against the Olympic torch relay by supporters of Tibet's right to national self-determination. The first appeared in Green Left Weekly. The second is by Pierre Rousset, a member of the French Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) and editor of the Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières (ESSF) website. It was translated for Links -- International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- by Katie Cherrington.
Pro-Tibet protests grow — why Tibet deserves justice
By Tony Iltis
April 19, 2008 -- Australian Capital Territory (ACT) police have been given enhanced stop-and-search powers for dealing with protests planned for the Canberra leg of the global Olympic torch relay on April 24. This comes as protests by the Tibetan diaspora and their supporters have turned the torch’s world tour into a public relations disaster for the Beijing Olympics.
Continued below photos ...
*** Stop press, April 24 ***
By Amy McDonell
In London and Paris, protesters attacked the flame with fire extinguishers and attempted to wrest it from the torch-bearers. In San Francisco, last-minute route changes meant that direct confrontation was avoided, but activists scaled the Golden Gate Bridge to display banners.
Furthermore, torch-bearer Majora Carter unfurled a small Tibetan flag, causing her to be evicted from the relay (and handed over to the police) by the attendants who have been accompanying the torch around the world. “Apparently, I’m not a part of the Olympic torch-bearing entourage anymore”, she said.
‘Sacred Flame Protection Unit’
These attendants flanking the torch are officers of China’s paramilitary police. Euphemistically styled the “Sacred Flame Protection Unit”, they attracted attention in Paris and London with their snappy blue tracksuits and the zeal with which they carried out their duties. A British Olympic official privately described them as thugs.
In Canberra, they will not be running alongside the flame, but confined to a bus. ACT and federal politicians have indicated that local police, armed with their increased powers, will render thugs from overseas unnecessary.
On April 17, the New Delhi leg of the relay took place, according to the BBC, without incident. It also took place without an audience, other than a small number of dignitaries plus the 15,000 police and paramilitary forces who sealed off the city centre.
The distance covered by the relay in New Delhi was reduced from 9km to 2.3km. These precautions reflect that India is keen not to alienate China, an important trading partner, but is also home to the world’s largest Tibetan refugee community, which numbers more than 100,000 and includes the Dalai Lama and his “government in exile”. More than 180 Tibetans were detained trying to breach the security cordon.
On April 16 more than 50 Tibetans were arrested in New Delhi at protests at the Chinese embassy, at the hotel at which the torch was kept and at the airport. On April 17 Tibetans held an “alternate” torch relay elsewhere in Delhi, claiming that legitimising a dictatorial regime was contrary to the intention behind the Olympic torch relay tradition.
Ironically, the Olympic torch tradition was, in fact, invented for precisely that purpose — by Hitler’s propagandists for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
The Beijing Olympics are not an aberration. Neither were the Berlin games. Since their inception at the beginning of the 20th century, the Olympics have been controlled by a committee drawn from the world’s elites and accountable to neither athletes nor the public. The antithesis of participatory sport, this mass spectator event is most of all about corporate sponsorship and marketing.
The April 16 Asian Times reported that a spokesperson for sponsor Coca-Cola condemned Majora Carter’s display of the Tibetan flag, saying: “It’s unfortunate that Ms Carter used an invitation to participate in the torch relay as a platform to make a personal political statement. We firmly believe the Olympics are a force for good that celebrate the best in sports, and we are proud to support the Beijing 2008 Olympics.”
Undeniably, the Olympics are a “force for good” when it comes to the profits of the large corporations that sponsor it — something petty concerns over events such as the recent gunning down of more than 100 Tibetans struggling for self determination by Chinese authorities should not be allowed to interfere with.
The Olympics’ purportedly non-political nature has never stopped tyrants from using them as a platform for self-aggrandisement, but it has been used to silence critics of the status quo.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had nothing to say about the massacre of student protesters that formed the backdrop to the 1968 Mexico City games. However, when two African American athletes at the same games, standing on the podium to receive their medals after the 200 metre race, raised their fists in a “black power” salute in support of the civil rights struggle back home, the IOC expelled them from the Olympics.
Massacring protesting students is one thing, but a symbolic, peaceful, public display of anti-racism was a crime the Olympic officials could not be silent in the face of.
While Western politicians and media have expressed the pious hope that hosting the Olympics would improve China’s human rights record, the opposite has happened. An Amnesty International report released on April 1 revealed that the approach of the games has led to a crackdown on dissidents in Beijing, many of the victims being housing rights activists protesting against Olympics-related evictions.
Unfortunately, this too is in line with Olympic traditions. For example, the 1996 Atlanta games were accompanied by laws criminalising homelessness that allowed authorities to remove poor people from run-down inner-city districts, facilitating highly profitable redevelopment.
The 2000 Sydney games were accompanied by the introduction of laws increasing police and security powers, including allowing the army to be deployed against demonstrators. These laws anticipated the erosion of civil liberties under the “war on terror” that began a year later — culminating in the lock-down and “police state”-style siege of the city during the APEC summit last year.
The pro-Tibetan protests against the torch relay have provoked counter-protests by Chinese migrants and overseas students in a number of Western cities, with protests occurring in Sydney and Melbourne on April 13.
These were largely ignored by the Australian media, despite both rallies drawing crowds of 5000. Chinese students are planning to converge on Canberra on April 24 to stage a counter-demonstration against the anti-torch relay protests of Tibetans and their supporters.
The size and passion of these mobilisations by Chinese communities in the West reflects anger at Western media bias and hypocrisy.
In an April 7 article posted on Counterpunch.org, Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery contrasts the sympathetic Western media coverage of Tibet’s struggle (which he supports) to that of other nations struggling for self-determination — citing Kurdistan, Western Sahara, the Basque Country, Corsica, Chechnya, Tamil Eelam and Palestine as examples.
He attributes this partly to the fact that China is an economic rival of the West, its regime “hated … by capitalists because it is a Communist dictatorship, by Communists because it has become capitalist”, and also that Tibet’s history as a mysterious Himalayan kingdom has given it a romantic aura.
Indeed, the prominence of Tibet in Western consciousness owes much to the Dalai Lama’s success in convincing entertainment industry celebrities such as Richard Gere and the Beastie Boys that Tibet was historically a spiritual paradise. (It was, in fact, a country of impoverished serfs exploited by a theocratic nobility.)
Avnery contrasts this with Muslim nations struggling for self-determination who must contend with the fact that “in the Western world, Islamophobia now occupies the place that had for centuries been reserved for anti-Semitism”.
Interestingly, the cause of the Uighurs, whose struggle for self-determination against Beijing — in the face of brutal repression — broadly parallels that of the Tibetans, is largely unreported in the West. The Uighurs are Muslim.
However, it would be wrong to conclude that this Western media bias indicates that the West supports Tibetan independence. During the Cold War this was the case — the CIA gave support, including military support, to Tibetan independence groups as part of its attempt to undermine the Chinese Revolution.
However, with China reintegrating into the global capitalist economy, it is the destination for a huge amount of Western investment. China’s economy is subordinate to Western capital. Imperialism may play the Tibet card to remind China of its place in the global capitalist hierarchy, but it would be against its interests to dismember China — which has become the industrial estate of global capitalism. Western economic interests have increasingly penetrated into Tibet itself, which is facilitated by Chinese control of the region — maintained by repression.
Tibetans deserve the right to self-determination because it is a democratic right. The desire of many Tibetans for independence reflects the fact that after 50 years of Chinese rule, Tibetans are marginalised second-class citizens in their own country.
That the Western media paints Tibetans more favourably than, for instance, Palestinians, does not make either people undeserving of democratic rights. In fact, the simple, spiritual Tibetan Buddhist and the deranged Arab terrorist are equally racist stereotypes. Everyone who supports the principles of social justice should support the growing global movement in solidarity with Tibet’s struggle for self determination.
Tibet: The Olympic flame is extinguished in Paris!
April 8, 2008 -- Under the pressure of demonstrators coming to defend the rights of the Tibetan people, the passage of the Olympic torch in Paris on April 7 became particularly chaotic. The Olympic symbol was placed under high protection from 3000 police officers. But Reporters without Borders could still display enormous black banners in full view, and the protesters' incursions multiplied, piercing the police lines, to the point that the route of the torch had to be altered, then completely cut short. The officials finally had to put it out and take it on a bus. A beautiful spectacle!
In Paris, the Chinese government lost a battle in the communications war around Tibet and human rights. The French government also lost face somewhat, unable to assure Olympic order in Paris. Thus, the state secretary in charge of sport ``saw it as a bad blow for France'' according to the April 9 Le Monde. In Beijing, the spokesperson of the Olympic Games organisation committee thundered against ``the blasphemy of Paris''. Amusing.
We should not sulk over our pleasure at so many official failures and to measure the impact of the Tibetan solidarity initiatives.
But this note is also the occasion to respond to some criticisms raised against my previous articles published on this subject in Rouge and ESSF  -– criticisms reproduced here in the appendixes.
1. The CIA in 1957-1959
For Klareco, it was only in 1958 (and not in 1957 as I have written ) that the CIA began arming the Tibetan insurrection against the People's Liberation Army. This is possible, but the date varies according to the authors. I myself have not been able to go back to the sources to better determine the stages of US military intervention. But this doesn't change the international context which at that time controlled the policies of Washington (wars in Korea and Indochina…).
2. The call of April 7
I criticised the call for demonstrations on April 7 in my previous article . Fabien violently reproaches me for ``obscure rhetoric'' and ``improper methods'' which ``allow the LCR bureaucrats to remain with arms crossed''. Let us take up some of the points again. Contrary to what Fabien insinuates, while signaling that there apparently exist several versions, I made reference to an authenticated appeal, because it was reproduced as it was on a number of solidarity websites (and widely distributed on e-lists). 
This appeal was signed (in all that versions that I have seen) by diverse national ``communities'' with one of which ... the ``Chinese community''. As the events of April 7 confirmed, the aforementioned community is far from supporting the initiatives of the call! Fabien forgets to recognise this.
He asserts that the call does not make a single comparison with Nazism and is satisfied to speak of a ``pre-genocidal'' situation. However, the call refers to the ``fate of millions of European Jews during the Second World War'' (therefore under the Nazi regime), adding that ``Tibetans are living in this situation presently''. The call also assured us that ``what is happening currently under our eyes in Tibet is nothing other than genocide: (one version drives the nail in more precisely : ``a veritable genocide'', ``and not only cultural''). I don't know from where Fabien found the term ``pre-genocidal situation'', I have read it nowhere.
3. The Olympic Games and the boycott
Marc and Fabien sharply reproach my not having explained my position regarding the Olympic Games. Admittedly, in my first article, I made no mention of the question . But in the previous one, I quote from (and reproduce in my account) the official statement of the LCR supporting all the solidarity initiatives towards Tibetans which occur at the time of the Games and their preparation (like those of the April 7) . I fear that my opinion on the Olympic Games isn't of much interest, because it is a question which I have not especially worked on and around which I have not been active... .
Since today I have been questioned with insistence, here is my opinion, going from the general to the specific:
I have nothing good to say about the Olympic Games, [which is a celebration] of state nationalism, the money-king and of competitive sport which manufactures handicapped people and ages the body before its time, which corrupts souls while forcing doping. Hardly ``healthy body and healthy mind''! But I also think that a certain critique of ``sport'' (sometimes abruptly identified with fascism) is furiously elitist and completely incomprehensible to the common run of people (Marc perhaps recognises himself here). What I regret is that there is no longer a movement for a popular and alternative practice of sport, against the dominant capitalist logic... It is not for nothing there is a heading ``Sport and Politics'' on the ESSF website! (A little lacking, I admit.)
I am not in favour of an ``in general'' call to boycott the Olympic Games in Beijing. For some, it is necessary to boycott the next Games because ``China does not deserve them'', considering the violations of human rights of which this state is guilty. But which other countries deserve it? The United States at the time of Guantanamo, the war in Iraq and the justifications of the President Bush for recourse to torture? France, which is strongly suspected of having been involved in the last of the genocides of the last century (that of the Tutsi in Rwanda) and whose successive governments have buried this ``detail'' of its history? It is difficult to do worse in the scale of human rights violations -– and in all impunity.
These are the types of questions which are concealed by ``unanimous calls'' -– right and left together -– against the Beijing Olympic Games. Just as they conceal the nature of the oppressive dynamics in China today, intrinsically linked to the development of a new capitalism and the integration of the country into the global market. The present bourgeois oppression is currently on the way to taking over from the bureaucratic oppression of yesterday.
I am not convinced that the call to boycott is most effective today for the Tibetan cause. It could reduce pressure inasmuch as it would not be likely to succeed and risks being reduced to a posture of principle, while the ``hullabaloo'' around the Olympic Games have a very broad impact (I obviously speak here of the boycott of the Games, not of the better ``targeted'' opening ceremony). And it is necessary not to forget that it is essential, for the future, to support feelings of solidarity towards Tibetans among the Chinese population (also subjected to exploitation and oppression). Does the call to boycott help with this?
I don't think that my response will satisfy Marc and Fabien, but such is, for the time being, my opinion. And a question for my contradictors: through speaking about the Olympic Games, one forgets to clarify around what we mobilise ourselves. Are we required to respect the right to self-determination of the Tibetan people? Or like [French President] Sarkozy, do we refuse them this right by affirming that Tibet is a part of China?
An article in Rouge
Sarkozy accomplice to Beijing
Above all, let's do nothing which can damage the economic and commercial interests of the French firms on the gigantic Chinese market… Thus can be summarised the French presidency's position concerning the policy on China in Tibet. In fact, the question relates less to the attitude that it has agreed upon to adopt regarding the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing, than the relationship of our government with a regime which represses the Tibetan people as brutally as its democratic opponents.
The state secretary in charge of human rights, Rama Yade, was rapped sharply on the knuckles for having dared to take her role seriously and to have allowed herself to suggest ``conditions'' for the participation of Nicolas Sarkosy in the Olympic Games opening ceremony. Her supervising minister Bernard Kouchner, who for a long time has wanted to be the incarnation of ``humanitarian intervention'' [in foriegn countries], added: ``The position of Nicolas Sarkozy is very clear and has not moved: he will take his decision based on developments of the situation''. Clearly, the presidency intends to keep its hands completely free…
On the night of his presidential victory, the Sarkozy had committed to placing himself on the side of the oppressed around the globe. Between increased military engagement in Afghanistan or Africa and kindness towards the massacres in the forbidden city, here is yet another promise which will be kicked to the kerb.
(This appeared on April 10, 2008.)
* Marc, Saint-Maurice (Val-de-Marne) 28/03/2008: An article which certainly points out a sad history. But also an article which refuses to take a position and discuss what the whole world is talking about and will soon move in a direction not in the historical interests of the Tibetans. Is it or is it not necessary to go to Beijing to celebrate the Olympic Games of shame? Some of us think that the boycott of the opening ceremony, of the closing ceremony and especially of what occurs between these two ceremonies is the only weapon which could force the Chinese state party to bend ... What is your position regarding the boycott? Unless you estimate that one should not mix sport and politics, or that it's not necessary to spoil the pleasure of remaining ensconced before a television vibrating with the victories of athletes stuffed with [performance-enhancing drugs].
*Klareco, Paris, 01/04/2008: To write that the accord with the ruling classes, the Buddhist clergy and the Dalai Lama was broken off, and that the CIA ``armed the anti-Chinese insurrection in 1957-1959'' is not right. This compromise, which related only to central Tibet, alone under Tibetan administration, was not broken off before the popular uprising of March 1959 in Lhasa. Thus, according to the historian Tsering Shakya, the first target of the protesters was the aristocracy, blamed for having sold the Dalai Lama to the occupying army. A relative of the latter estimated that if this uprising hadn't taken place, following events would have been a war between the Tibetan government and the Khams. In Eastern Tibet, they had been engaged in revolt since 1955 against the measures taken by the Chinese (not all progressive!), and were victims of a colonial-type war (bombings, destroyed villages). The CIA who had a minimal role in the early 1950s in Tibet, did not parachute weapons before July 1958.
*Fabien, Paris, 04/04/2008: A text which, not taking a position for or against the boycott of the Olympic Games in Beijing, swims in full confusionism (no Tibetan is not idealistic enough to not protest loudly and strongly during the demos ``Olympic Games 2008, games of shame!'' on this subject, the LCR stays as mute as a carp …). Obscure rhetoric, in addition relying on a non-existent press release because it is not official (the official press release was sent to the author of this response, it does not make any comparison with Nazism and does not speak of a genocidal situation, but pre-genocidal), here are the improper methods that allow the LCR bureaucrats to remain with arms crossed to watch the associated humanoids who will make the records fall in the month of August (with a badge, of course…). After the declaration of Mr Grond, who admitted in the Nouvel Observateur that ``the question of boycotting the games has not arisen'' to the League, one can doubt the vanguard revolutionary as soon as it's necessary to criticise sport…
 For space reasons, articles uploaded on the ESSF site are generally more complete than the versions published in Rouge.
 See Pour le droit à l'autodétermination du peuple tibétain
 See Tibet: les devoirs de la solidarité…
 See one of the versions reproduced on the ESSF website: Tibet: appel à manifester le 7 avril 2008 ou http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article9822
 See En solidarité avec le peuple tibétain
 See l'intégralité du communiqué : Contre la répression au Tibet
 See Pierre Rousset : « A l'heure de la coupe du monde : mais de quel foot parlons-nous ? », Rouge n°1788, 9 juillet 1998.
Twelve Suggestions for Dealing with the Tibetan Situation, by Some Chinese Intellectuals
By Wang Lixiong and over 300 others
1. At present the one-sided propaganda of the official Chinese media is having the effect of stirring up inter-ethnic animosity and aggravating an already tense situation. This is extremely detrimental to the long-term goal of safeguarding national unity. We call for such propaganda to be stopped.
2. We support the Dalai Lama's appeal for peace, and hope that the ethnic conflict can be dealt with according to the principles of goodwill, peace, and nonviolence. We condemn any violent act against innocent people, strongly urge the Chinese government to stop the violent suppression, and appeal to the Tibetan people likewise not to engage in violent activities.
3. The Chinese government claims that "there is sufficient evidence to prove this incident was organized, premeditated, and meticulously orchestrated by the Dalai clique." We hope that the government will show proof of this. In order to change the inter-national community's negative view and distrustful attitude, we also sug-gest that the government invite the United Nations' Commission on Human Rights to carry out an independent investigation of the evidence, the course of the incident, the number of casualties, etc.
4. In our opinion, such Cultural Revolution–like language as "the Dalai Lama is a jackal in Buddhist monk's robes and an evil spirit with a human face and the heart of a beast" used by the Chinese Communist Party leadership in the Tibet Autonomous Region is of no help in easing the situation, nor is it beneficial to the Chinese government's image. As the Chinese gov-ernment is committed to integrating into the international community, we maintain that it should display a style of governing that conforms to the standards of modern civilization.
5. We take note of the fact that on the very day when violence first broke out in Lhasa (March 14), the government authorities in Tibet were already announcing that "we possess ample evidence that the violence has been organized, plotted in advance, and meticulously orchestrated by the Dalai clique." If so, then government authorities knew in advance that rioting was going to occur and yet did nothing to prevent it or to stop it from spreading. There should be a rigorous inquiry into the possibility of official involvement and malfeasance.
6. If, in the end, it cannot be shown that the events were organized, plotted in advance, and meticulously orchestrated [by the Dalai Lama] but emerges instead that they were a government-instigated "popular revolt," then the officials who were responsible for instigating this "revolt" and for sending false and deceptive reports about it to the central government and to the citizens of the country should be held to account. There should be conscientious reflection, and the learning of lessons, so that such things never happen again.
7. We strongly demand that the authorities not subject every Tibetan to political investigation or revenge. The trials of those who have been arrested must be carried out according to judicial procedures that are open, just, and transparent so as to ensure that all parties are satisfied.
8. We urge the Chinese government to allow credible national and international media to go into Ti-betan areas to conduct independent interviews and news reports. In our view, the current news blockade cannot gain credit with the Chinese people or the international community, and is harmful to the credibility of the Chinese government. If the government sticks to true accounts of the events, it need not fear challenges. Only by adopting an open attitude can we turn around the interna-tional community's distrust of our government.
9. We appeal to the Chinese people and overseas Chinese to be calm and tolerant, and to reflect deeply on what is happening. Adopting a posture of aggressive nationalism will only invite antipathy from the international community and harm China's international image.
10. The disturbances in Tibet in the 1980s were limited to Lhasa, whereas this time they have spread to many Tibetan areas. This deterioration indicates that there are serious mistakes in the work that has been done with regard to Tibet. The relevant government departments must conscientiously reflect upon this matter, examine their failures, and fundamentally change the failed nationality policies.
11. In order to prevent similar incidents from happening in future, the government must abide by the freedom of religious belief and the freedom of speech explicitly enshrined in the Chinese Constitution, thereby allowing the Tibetan people fully to express their grievances and hopes, and permitting citizens of all nationalities freely to criticize and make suggestions regarding the government's nationality policies.
12. We hold that we must eliminate animosity and bring about national reconciliation, not continue to increase divisions between nationalities. A country that wishes to avoid the partition of its territory must first avoid divisions among its nationalities. Therefore, we appeal to the leaders of our country to hold direct dialogue with the Dalai Lama. We hope that the Chinese and Tibetan people will do away with the misunderstandings between them, develop their interactions with each other, and achieve unity. Government departments as much as popular organizations and religious figures should make great efforts toward this goal.
Wang Lixiong (Beijing, writer)
Liu Xiaobo (Beijing, freelance writer)
Zhang Zuhua (Beijing, scholar of constitutionalism)
Sha Yexin (Shanghai, writer, Chinese Muslim)
Yu Haocheng (Beijing, jurist)
Ding Zilin (Beijing, professor)
Jiang Peikun (Beijing, professor)
Yu Jie (Beijing, writer)
Sun Wenguang (Shangdong, professor)
Ran Yunfei (Sichuan, editor, Tujia nationality)
Pu Zhiqiang (Beijing, lawyer)
Teng Biao (Beijing, lawyer and scholar)
Liao Yiwu (Sichuan, writer)
Wang Qisheng (Beijing, scholar)
Zhang Xianling (Beijing, engineer)
Xu Jue (Beijing, research fellow)
Li Jun (Gansu, photographer)
Gao Yu (Beijing, journalist)
Wang Debang (Beijing, freelance writer)
Zhao Dagong (Shenzhen, freelance writer)
Jiang Danwen (Shanghai, writer)
Liu Yi (Gansu, painter)
Xu Hui (Beijing, writer)
Wang Tiancheng (Beijing, scholar)
Wen Kejian (Hangzhou, writer)
Li Hai (Beijing, freelance writer)
Tian Yongde (Inner Mongolia, rights activist)
Zan Aizong (Hangzhou, journalist)
Liu Yiming (Hubei, freelance writer)
Liu Di (Beijing)
and 338 others
The rules of signing one's name are as follows:
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On April 24, as day broke over Canberra, red flags with yellow stars moved in columns throughout the city, held in the hands of marchers, fluttering from car aerials and hanging in the windows of hundreds of buses.
More than 10,000 China supporters had arrived in Canberra to greet the torch and support the Olympic Games, but primarily they were there to “defend their homeland” against what they described as “lies of the Tibetans”. Throughout the day it was not the Olympic slogan of “one dream” chanted by the China supporters — predominantly students —, but “one China forever”.
This passion was matched by more than 1000 supporters of human rights and self-determination for Tibet and East Turkistan. When the two crowds met at Reconciliation Place, the atmosphere was far from conciliatory. Flags and banners were wrested from the hands of Tibet supporters, and a Chinese flag was set alight.
The Tibetan demonstration had two central demands. Firstly, that China negotiate with the Dalai Lama, and secondly, that the Olympic torch not go through Tibet on its journey to Beijing — an action that solidarity activists say will incite further unrest and deepen the crisis.
The protests shifted to Parliament House, where the passionate crowd heard from a number of speakers, including the Greens’ Bob Brown and Canadian singer k.d. lang, who condemned the persecution of Uighur Muslims in East Turkistan.
The protesters came from a wide variety of backgrounds: Tibet solidarity groups, Burma activists, the East Turkistan Association, Amnesty International, GetUp!, Resistance and the Socialist Alliance all lent their support. “Free Tibet” was written across the sky by a small plane.
Pro-Tibet protest organisers declared the day a success. Simon Bradshaw from the Australia Tibet Council said it was “an exemplary show of non-violence from the Tibetan community and its supporters in spite of tremendous antagonism”.
The Chinese Embassy enthusiastically supported the China contingents, paying “most of the expenses [and providing] virtually all of the organisation, down to transport, accommodation, strategies, tactics, marshals, face markings and issues of Chinese flags”, according to Jack Waterford in the April 25 Canberra Times.
The embassy’s private urging of Chinese students to engage in “patriotic activity” to counter Free Tibet campaigners — while publicly calling on Tibetans to keep politics out of the event — is hard to view as anything but hypocrisy.
However, despite the actions of the embassy, the China supporters were not just a “rent-a-crowd”. Many were angered at what they perceived was unjustified criticism of China and media bias over the events in their Tibet by the West.
This anger was compounded by disgust at criticism of China’s human rights record by a country with its own record tarnished by its treatment of Indian doctor Dr Mohamed Haneef and of its Indigenous people, as well as by its support for the torture camp at Guantanamo Bay. One pro-China protester summed up the sentiment: “You have no right to lecture us about what we do in our own country when you do not respect human rights in your own.”
Socialist Alliance activist Graham Mathews, who traveled down from Sydney to join the “Free Tibet” action, told Green Left Weekly that “regardless of the hypocrisy of governments like Australia’s criticising China, the Tibetan people have the right to self-determination. We can not pick and choose who deserves justice and who doesn’t because of the manoeuvres of the powerful. Socialists support all struggles for social justice, including the democratic rights of the Tibetan people to determine their future.”
From: Australian News, Green Left Weekly issue #748 30 April 2008.
San Francisco: Responding to a question about Coca-Cola's sponsorship of the Olympic
Torch Relay at the Coca-Cola shareholders meeting last week, Mr. Isdell,
CEO of Coca-Cola, defended the sponsorship by referring to the Olympic
Torch as a symbol of hope and openness.
At about the same time, the Olympic Torch was being run in New Delhi,
India. On hand were over 15,000 armed security personnel, including
Indian paramilitary forces and Chinese security, and the public was
largely banned from attending. On hand to view the ceremonies were
a very select few, including a group of children outfitted with Coca-Cola
Surely Mr. Isdell got it wrong? The Olympic Torch being paraded through
a hastily shortened route in New Delhi surrounded by some of the tightest
security the city has ever seen with the public largely kept away
is hardly symbolic of the hope and openness that the Olympic Torch
Ongoing protests around the Olympics Torch Relay to highlight China's
occupation of Tibet is a refreshing reminder that no amount of "feel
good" advertising and "brand" associations can whitewash the reality
- that the Chinese government suppresses human rights in Tibet.
The Olympic Torch Relay, sponsored primarily by three corporations
- US based Coca-Cola, South Korea based Samsung and China based Lenovo
- are critical to the Chinese governments attempts to paint a picture
of China that is open and tolerant - regardless of the pending human
And China is not the first government that has attempted to use the
Olympic Games to gain credibility from a global audience. In 1936,
the Olympic Games were held in Nazi Germany, and the Nazis had the
same goal - to extract credibility from the world community.
For Coca-Cola, however, the Olympic Games and the Torch Relay provide
a tremendous marketing opportunity, associating its brand with the
feel good games that has arguably the largest audience in the world.
Coca-Cola has reportedly invested more that US$100 million into the
Games. The promise of financial returns from the sponsorship are too
great for any human rights or environmental concerns to put a damper
on their plans.
While China hopes to benefit politically by hosting the Olympic Games,
Coca-Cola aspires to profit financially from the Olympic Games.
Coca-Cola, it seems, will sponsor just about anything, as long as
it sees potential profits.
The 1936 Berlin Olympic Games were used by the Nazis to paint a picture
of Germany as a peaceful and tolerant Germany, even though the persecution
of Jews, Romas and others deemed undesirable by the state in Germany
had already started. The first permanent Nazi concentration camp had
opened in Dachau in 1933 - three years prior to the Olympics - and
Jews were not allowed to participate in the Games.
Coca-Cola was a primary sponsor of the 1936 Games. And the first modern
day Olympic Torch Relay was initiated in Berlin in 1936, and Coca-Cola
was its sponsor at that time too.
While the magnitude of horror inflicted by Nazi Germany is unsurpassed
and we hesitate to make comparisons with China's oppression in Tibet,
one must raise serious concerns about corporate sponsorships that
do not take human rights concerns into account, as was and is the
case with the Coca-Cola company.
In fact, Coca-Cola's involvement in Nazi Germany went further. While
the Coca-Cola company was supplying Coke to Allied soldiers on the
war front, its German counterpart, Coca-Cola GmbH, was busy selling
Coca-Cola to Germans. When Coca-Cola GmbH could no longer receive
the syrup from the US after the US entered the war in 1941, it developed
a drink using ingredients available in Nazi Germany called Fanta.
It seems that Coca-Cola had hedged its bets. If the Allies won, Coca-Cola
would rule the world and if the Nazis won, Fanta would.
To be fair, Coca-Cola was not the only company to hedge its bets during
World War II. But the extent to which companies will go to ensure
future markets and profits, however unethical, is disturbing. And
Coca-Cola's sponsorship of the Olympic Torch Run and the Beijing Games
is just that - unethical and devoid of morality.
It makes no difference whether Tibetans are murdered, tortured or
intimidated by the Chinese government. Its mandate is to increase
its sales in China, and it will do nothing to risk losing access to
these emerging markets, particularly at a time when its sales in the
US are declining as consumers become more health savvy.
The current protests around the Olympic Torch Relay are a perfect
moment to scrutinize the role that corporations play in this day and
age of globalization and send a clear message to the corporations
that human rights must come before profits.
On the one hand, there is increased talk of Corporate Social Responsibility
- which is corporation's response to globalization - in which Coca-Cola
figures prominently. Yet, when a pressing issue such as Tibet comes
to the fore, Coca-Cola chooses to remain silent and endorse the Games
for financial reasons, absurdly citing "openness" and "hope" to defend
On March 20, 2008, over 150 Tibet support groups from around the world
penned a letter to the Coca-Cola company labeling its sponsorship
of the Games "tasteless" and asking it to ensure that the Olympic
Torch does not go through Tibet.
We are not holding our breath to hear anything positively from the
Coca-Cola company in this regard.
Many in India are accustomed to Coca-Cola's doublespeak and spin to
divert attention from the real issues. Ironically, the Coca-Cola company
has chosen to promote "environmental stewardship" as part of its sponsorship
of the Olympic Torch Relay. No matter that thousands of farmers in
India have challenged the company for destroying the environment,
particularly water resources, that one of its largest bottling plants
in India has been shut down because of pollution, and that its own
assessment has confirmed what the communities in India have been saying
If we have learnt anything from the past, and the horror of the Nazi
Germany era, it is incumbent upon us to demand that the Coca-Cola
company act. At the very least, the company should state publicly
that the Olympic Torch should not go through Tibet - an unconscionable
act, according to Tibetan activists. And if Coca-Cola is serious about
being a good corporate citizen and even an average student of history,
it must end its sponsorship of the Beijing Olympics to send a strong
message that financial profits are secondary to human rights.
Until then, we would encourage all torchbearers to cease being ambassadors
for a company that is blind to everything except profits. And encourage
consumers to think before they drink Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola's sponsorship, frankly speaking, is simply not Olympic in
Amit Srivastava is the Director of India
Resource Center, an international campaigning organization based
in San Francisco, USA.
Olimpiadas en China, Tortura en Tibet, Utilidades de Coca-Cola
San Francisco: Respondiendo a una pregunta acerca del patrocinio de
Coca-Cola en el Recorrido de la Antorcha Olímpica durante una reunión
de accionistas de Coca-Cola, el Sr. Isdell, Presidente Ejecutivo de
la firma, defendió el patrocinio refiriéndose a la Antorcha Olímpica
como un símbolo de esperanza y apertura.
Aproximadamente en ese mismo momento, la Antorcha Olímpica estaba
pasando por Nueva Delhi, India. Estaban preparados más de 15,000 personas
armadas de seguridad, incluyendo fuerzas paramilitares indias y personal
chino de seguridad; al público en gran medida le fue prohibido asistir.
A la vista estaban unas pocas personas seleccionadas viendo la ceremonia,
incluyendo un grupo de niños vestidos con camisetas de Coca-Cola.
¡Ciertamente el Sr. Isdell entendió mal! La Antorcha Olímpica paseada
a través de una ruta precipitadamente acortada en Nueva Delhi, rodeada
de una seguridad tan fuerte como nunca vista en la ciudad, con el
público mantenido a distancia, es difícilmente el símbolo de esperanza
y de apertura que la Antorcha Olímpica supuestamente simboliza.
Las protestas que se están realizando en torno al paso de la Antorcha
Olímpica a fin de resaltar la ocupación del Tíbet por China, es un
refrescante recordatorio de que ninguna cantidad de anuncios preconizando
"sentirse bien" y de asociaciones de "marcas", pueden taparle el rostro
a la realidad - que el gobierno chino reprime los derechos humanos
El Recorrido de la Antorcha Olímpica, patrocinado principalmente por
tres compañías - la Coca-Cola, con base en los Estados Unidos; Samsung,
que tiene su base en Corea y Lenovo, con base en China son críticas
para los intentos del gobierno de China de ofrecer un panorama de
apertura y tolerancia - a pesar de las preocupaciones que existen
en el ambiente en relación con los derechos humanos.
Y China no es el primer gobierno que ha hecho el intento de usar los
Juegos Olímpicos para ganar credibilidad ante la audiencia global.
En 1936, los Juegos Olímpicos se celebraron en la Alemania Nazi, y
los nazis tenían la misma meta - obtener la credibilidad de la comunidad
No obstante, para Coca-Cola, los Juegos Olímpicos y el Recorrido de
la Antorcha ofrece una increíble oportunidad de mercadeo, asociando
la marca con el sentimiento de bienestar de los juegos que se dice
tienen la audiencia más grande del mundo. Se reporta que Coca-Cola
ha invertido más de US$100 millones en los Juegos. La expectativa
de un retorno financiero derivado del patrocinio es demasiado grande
como para que cualquier derecho humano o inquietud ambiental pueda
atenuar sus planes.
Mientras que China espera beneficiarse políticamente como anfitrión
de los Juegos Olímpicos, Coca-Cola aspira a obtener ganancias financieras
Parece que Coca-Cola patrocina casi cualquier cosa, en el tanto en
que perciban beneficios potenciales.
Los Juegos Olímpicos de 1936 en Berlín fueron usados por los Nazis
para crear un panorama de una Alemania pacífica y tolerante, a pesar
de la persecución a la que estaban sometidos los judíos, rumanos y
otros que eran considerados indeseables por el estado alemán. El primer
campo de concentración nazi de carácter permanente había sido abierto
en Dachau en 1933 - tres años antes de las Olimpiadas - y a los judíos
no se les permitió participar en ellas.
Coca-Cola fue uno de los principales patrocinadores de los Juegos
de 1936. Y el primer Recorrido de la Antorcha Olímpica en tiempos
modernos se inició en Berlín en 1936, y Coca-Cola esa vez también
Mientras que la magnitude del horror creado por la Alemania Nazi no
tiene parangón y dudamos en hacer comparaciones con la opresión china
en Tíbet, uno debe preocuparse seriamente acerca del patrocinio corporativo
que no toman en consideración los derechos humanos, como fue el caso
de la compañía Coca-Cola.
De hecho, la participación de Coca-Cola en la Alemania Nazi fue más
lejos. Mientras que la compañía Coca-Cola le suministraba Coca a los
soldados aliados en el frente de guerra, su contraparte alemana, Coca-Cola
GMBH estabna muy ocupada vendiéndole Coca-Cola a los alemanes. Una
vez que Coca-Cola GMBH ya no pudo seguir recibiendo el sirope de los
Estados Unidos después de que este último entró en la guerra en 1941,
desarrolló una bebida utilizando ingredientes que estaban disponibles
en la Alemania Nazi, llamados Fanta.
Parece que Coca-Cola si había cubierto las espaldas. Si los aliados
ganaban, Coca-Cola reinaría en el mundo, y si los nazis ganaban, Fanta
Para ser justos, Coca-Cola no era la única compañía que se cubrió
las espaldas durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Lo que las empresas
hacen para asegurarse los mercados en el futuro y las ganancias, sin
embargo, es anti-ético y preocupante. Y el patrocinio de Coca-Cola
para el Recorrido de la Antorcha Olímpica y los Juegos en Beijing
es sencillamente eso: anti-ético y carente de moralidad.
No hace ninguna diferencia si los tibetanos son asesinados, torturados
o intimidados por el gobierno chino. Su mandato es aumentar las ventas
en China, y no hará nada que ponga en riesgo el acceso a estos mercados
emergentes, particularmente en un momento en que las ventas en los
Estados Unidos están declinando conforme los consumidores se tornan
más precavidos con su salud.
Las protestas que se están realizando en torno al Recorrido de la
Antorcha Olímpica llegan en el momento justo para escrutar el papel
que juegan las corporaciones en este día y en esta era de globalización
y enviar un mensaje claro a las corporaciones en cuanto a que los
derechos humanos deben anteponerse al dinero.
Por un lado, cada vez se habla más de Responsabilidad Social Corporativa
- lo cual es la respuesta de la corporación a la globalización - en
la cual Coca-Cola es figura prominente. Sin embargo, cuando un tema
candente como el del Tíbet entra a regir, Coca-Cola prefiere permanecer
silenciosa y apoya a los Juegos por meras razones financieras, citando
de manera absurda la "apertura" y la "esperanza" como pantalla de
El 20 de Marzo, 2008, más de 150 grupos que apoyan al Tíbet en todo
el mundo, suscribieron una carta a la compañía Coca-Cola denunciando
que su patrocinio de los Juegos era "falto de tacto" y solicitando
que la Antorcha Olímpica no pasara por el Tíbet.
Estamos sosteniendo la respiración para poder oír algo positivo de
la compañía Coca-Cola sobre este asunto.
Mucha gente en India están acostumbrada al doble discurso de la Coca-Cola
y su capacidad para distraer la atención de los verdaderos problemas.
Irónicamente, Coca-Cola ha preferido promover el "cuido del ambiente"
como parte de su patrocinio del Recorrido de la Antorcha Olímpica.
No importa que miles de campesinos en India hayan puesto en evidencia
a la compañía por haber destruido el ambiente, particularmente los
recursos de agua, que una de sus plantas embotelladoras más grandes
en India ha sido cerrada por contaminación y que sus propias evaluaciones
confirmaron lo que las comunidades en India han estado diciendo todo
Si hemos aprendido algo del pasado y del horror de la era de la Alemania
Nazi, sentimos que es nuestro deber exigir que la compañía Coca-Cola
actúe. Por lo menos, la compañía debe declarar públicamente que la
Antorcha Olímpica no debe pasar por el Tíbet - un acto desmesurado,
de acuerdo con activistas tibetanos. Y si Coca-Cola es seria en cuanto
a ser un buen ciudadano corporativo y hasta un estudiante promedio
de historia, deberá finalizar su patrocinio de las Olimpiadas de Beijing
enviando un fuerte mensaje de que los beneficios financieros son secundarios
a los derechos humanos.
Hasta entonces, apoyamos a todos los portadores de la antorcha para
que no sigan siendo embajadores de una compañía que está cegada a
todo menos al dinero. Y alentamos a los consumidores a que piensen
dos veces antes de tomarse una Coca-Cola
Hablando con franqueza, el patrocinio de Coca-Cola es simplemente
anti-olímpico en espíritu.
Amit Srivastava es el Director de India
Resource Center, una organización de campañas internacionales
con base en San Francisco, Estados Unidos.
The struggle over the future of Tibet
By DAVID WHITEHOUSE
THIS SPRING’S protests against Chinese repression in Tibet are the most extensive since Communist Party troops entered the region in 1950. Thousands took to the streets in four provinces of China starting in the second week of March. Following a crackdown on these initial protests, solidarity activists have dogged the Olympic torch relay—eventually bound for Beijing in August—in Greece, London, Paris, San Francisco, and New Delhi.
There may be no single answer to what’s behind the protests, especially because the range of participants has been quite diverse. Many commentators emphasize what’s obvious—that Tibetans are rebelling against religious repression and the marginalization of Tibetan culture. A handful point out that the protests also arise out of class anger among ethnic Tibetans who find themselves subordinated to the Han (i.e., ethnic Chinese) even in regions where Tibetans form the majority. And thirdly, some on the left point out what most others miss—that protests against Chinese repression also allow Western states and politicians to score propaganda points against a rising imperial rival. An even smaller group on the left ignores the first two points and thinks that Western manipulation is the real story. But in order to dispose of that kind of claim, we need to look at more of the real story.
Two aspects of national oppression
Official repression of Tibetan religion and culture takes many forms. As left commentator Michael Parenti wrote on his Web site in January, the denigration begins in the public schools: “Tibetan history, culture, and certainly religion are slighted in schools. Teaching materials, though translated into Tibetan, focus mainly on Chinese history and culture.”1 The chief of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Tibet, Zhang Quingli—who holds more power than the region’s official chief executive—has stepped up religious repression since his appointment in 2005. According to a reporter for the Economist who happened to be in Lhasa when the first protests broke out:
When [Zhang] took charge, neglected rules banning students and the families of civil servants from taking part in religious activities began once more to be rigorously enforced. Mr. Zhang also stepped up official invective against the Dalai Lama, who is widely revered…. Mr. Zhang urged more “patriotic education” in monasteries, part of which involves denouncing the Dalai Lama.2Although the CCP recently began to admit capitalist bosses to its ranks, it still forbids its members from practicing religion. This ban poses a serious obstacle to upward mobility for religious believers, since party membership is a virtual necessity for advancing into the higher ranks of government employment or business.
In China, such barriers to religious practice are not unique to Tibet, and neither is revolt against them. The ethnic Uighurs of Xinjiang, the region to the north of Tibet, have waged their own recurring battles to practice Islam freely. This year’s revolt in Tibet has inspired a minor resurgence of protest in Xinjiang.3
Religious discrimination in employment sheds light on the class aspect of Tibetan grievances. Affirmative action has raised a thin layer of Tibetans into the elite—and into loyalty to the party and the state—but most Tibetans are left behind. The acceleration of economic development within Tibet, accompanied by accelerated immigration of Han Chinese, has cemented the connection between class and ethnicity. Michael Parenti comments:
In the 1990s, the Han, the ethnic group comprising over 95 percent of China’s immense population, began moving in substantial numbers into Tibet. On the streets of Lhasa and Shigatse, signs of Han colonization are readily visible. Chinese run the factories and many of the shops and vending stalls. Tall office buildings and large shopping centers have been built with funds that might have been better spent on water treatment plants and housing. Chinese cadres in Tibet too often view their Tibetan neighbors as backward and lazy, in need of economic development and “patriotic education.”4A recent scheme to build new housing has been “deepening poverty rather than boosting economic development,” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The program, mandated by China’s central government and begun in 2005, requires villagers to perform most of the construction themselves. HRW reported that local officials “frequently embezzled the centrally allocated funds” and that the “improvements” are cosmetic:
Tibetans have reported being told by local officials that clean, modern houses are necessary to make a good impression on growing numbers of visitors and tourists as the region modernizes.< p>But few of the houses have modern amenities such as water or electricity. In addition, the new houses are usually smaller than the old ones and lack courtyards, which means that residents cannot keep their livestock and must sell them. Tibetans say that doing so closes off a significant source of income for them.5Different participants in the protests have put different emphasis on the two aspects of oppression—religious-ethnic oppression and class oppression. This point becomes sharply evident if we look at the sequence of protests as they unfolded. Followers of the exiled Dalai Lama, Tibet’s chief religious figure, initially planned a series of staged commemorations of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. One featured event was to be a march of Tibetan exiles from India into Tibet—later blocked by the Indian government, which didn’t want to antagonize the Chinese. But the central events were to be in Lhasa. On March 10, the anniversary of the uprising, Chinese security forces broke up a gathering of monks outside a major monastery. They arrested up to fifty of the monks, and follow-up demonstrations escalated into a series of physical confrontations.
By March 14, however, protests spread beyond the religious orders. Riots broke out in the city’s old Tibetan quarter, targeting the newest symbols of Han Chinese culture and prosperity. Rioters also targeted Han Chinese persons, and may have killed some, although the Dalai Lama’s “government in exile” in India claimed that most of the casualties—up to 100 dead over the first weeks—were Tibetans killed by Chinese security forces. The Wall Street Journal commented on the Lhasa riots:
Even as the government insisted the violence had been instigated by a small group of monks, it was apparent from interviews that other factors were at play. One government official said that many of the people joining in the looting were unemployed youth.…In the days following the Lhasa riots, protests spread inside the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), where some 3 million Tibetans live, and into neighboring provinces, where nearly 3 million more Tibetans live. These new protests didn’t target Han Chinese personally, but focused instead on symbols of state authority. Although participants demanded religious freedom, the return of the Dalai Lama, and Tibetan independence (a step beyond the Dalai Lama’s call for increased autonomy), monks weren’t prominent in these protests at all. Wang Lixiong, a Beijing-based Tibet specialist, noted the scope of the protests in an interview with the Inter Press Service:
Tibetans rioted for a day and half, burning and looting mostly businesses owned by ethnic Han Chinese, and Muslim Hui, but also symbols of authority in an outburst of anger against the government.6
The last major unrest in Tibet in 1987 and the riots of 1989…were limited to…Lhasa and involved only monks, intellectuals and students,” Wang said. “But today’s unrest has spread over all Tibetan areas, and there are people from all walks, including peasants and workers…As the Chinese government rushed tens of thousands of security forces into the TAR and neighboring provinces to crush the protests, worldwide attention began to focus on the Olympic torch relay. Control of the protests reverted back to the Dalai Lama’s apparatus in India and to worldwide solidarity groups that look to him for leadership, and the spotlight returned to the religious aspects of Tibetans’ oppression as the class aspects faded from view.
Calling the visible signs of development in Tibet a “pretense of modernization,” Wang describes [in a 1998 book] how the dramatic rise in living standards among the Tibetan elite is in stark contrast with the impoverishment of the overwhelming majority of Tibetans who remain rural, illiterate and poor.7
The role of the U.S.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a longtime ally of the Dalai Lama, appeared with him a few days into the protests during a previously scheduled visit to India. She called on the world to take note of the Tibetans’ struggle, but like the Dalai Lama himself, stopped short of calling for a boycott of the Olympics. All three major presidential candidates made statements denouncing Chinese repression, although none endorsed independence for Tibet, and none came close to addressing the class aspect of the struggle. Hillary Clinton called on George W. Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing—something that Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown and France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy have vowed to do—but Bush has indicated that he will attend the ceremonies.
Given China’s importance to the world economy, U.S. politicians don’t seem to have the stomach for dismembering China the way they used to—at least not this year, when the U.S. economy is moving backwards. They may score points as patriots by needling China on human rights, and hope to build leverage against China in international forums, but this is nothing compared to the commitment of the Cold War presidents. Dwight Eisenhower’s CIA bankrolled the failed 1959 uprising. John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson provided $1.7 million of CIA money yearly through the 1960s for guerrilla harassment of Chinese forces in Tibet. The CIA also provided the Dalai Lama with a yearly stipend of $180,000.8 This direct funding for attacks against China supposedly ended in the early 1970s when Richard Nixon sought to forge an alliance with Mao Zedong against the USSR.
Most U.S. funding for Tibetan agitation now comes from the State Department, through its support for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The Dalai Lama’s India operation receives $2 million yearly from the NED, which also funds “democracy activities” of the Tibetan exile community, numbering some 150,000 worldwide.9
U.S. funding does not drive Tibetan resistance, however. Grievances against Chinese rule do that. Evidence of this year’s protests suggests that the wishes of the official exile leadership and its U.S. imperial supporters have a limited effect on the way the movement takes place inside China. But U.S. officials are still getting their money’s worth. There’s the propaganda value of humiliating their rising imperial rival, plus the value in drawing idealistic young Americans into attacks on China instead of focusing on U.S. government crimes in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America—or at home.
Resistance from below and corrosion of the party’s moral authority
Repression and militarization in Tibet and Xinjiang mirror the behavior of the other regional powers toward ethnic minorities in their own borderlands. India occupies Kashmir with hundreds of thousands of troops, and rules with an iron fist in the country’s northeast states. Meanwhile, Pakistan has never conceded basic democratic rights in the Pashto-speaking “tribal” areas that border Afghanistan. But on top of Tibet’s strategic importance as a national frontier, the connection of religion to Tibetan nationality poses a special threat to China’s rulers.
The Communist Party, and the emperors who ruled before them, have often seen religious movements as potential threats to their authority. A central ideological task for the party, especially during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), was to establish its moral authority—in fact, to establish a monopoly on moral authority. The CCP waged war on Confucianism during this period not just because it was a doctrine that supported Chinese feudal traditions, but also because it posited moral standards that were independent of the whim of any ruler.10 Likewise, Tibetan Buddhism became a target—and party loyalists in Tibet destroyed monasteries and persecuted the open practice of the religion—for the same reasons. Religious traditions that promote the moral authority of particular religious figures are still subject to special attack. Worse yet are those whose leaders are based outside the country and free from regulation, such as Roman Catholicism, Falun Gong, and Tibetan Buddhism.
The state can reap some benefit if it adopts such an ideology officially, but the effect is double-edged. Official Confucianism, for example, like religious traditions in the West, appeared to hold imperial state officials to an independent moral standard. For this reason, it was able to legitimize the power of those at the top even when they failed to meet the standards from time to time—as long as they endorsed the standards and appeared to live by them at other times. The other edge of the sword, however, was that opponents of the state could mount resistance on the basis of those standards.
As bourgeois states of the West arose and adopted an increasing secular justification, they promoted legal traditions that also supposedly upheld independent standards of justice. In contrast, the imperial Chinese legal tradition never made a pretense of being anything but an instrument in the hands of the imperial administration; the concept of “separation of powers” was alien to a system that sought to establish a dynastic monopoly on power. In this respect, the Chinese Communist Party continued the tradition.11 So, if potential opponents of the state wanted to appeal to independent standards that could restrain or correct the behavior of officials, the legal tradition would be no help to them. Since oppositionists were cut off from any legal recourse, communist officials have been especially fearful of an opposition that would look for its standards within some religious tradition.
This is the context in which we must view the Communist Party’s current emphasis on the rule of law. The reform of the legal system—which includes the defense of property rights, as well as individual rights—is not just an attempt to make a private capitalist economy function more smoothly. It is an attempt to bolster consent for the Communist Party’s continued grip on power at a time when its reputation has been damaged by widespread corruption, rampant greed, and violent responses to demands for redistribution and democratic reform.
In the years from 1994 to 2004 (a period when Chinese officials were still willing to publish statistics on mass unrest), the number of “mass incidents” increased more than sevenfold, from 10,000 to 74,000. The category of “mass incidents” has vague boundaries, but it includes riots, demonstrations, and strikes.12 The growing wave of protest is a symptom that workers and peasants are fed up with being left behind while the economy is booming—and a symptom of the corrosion of the moral authority of the officials who preside over the system.
That’s where the rule of law is supposed to come in. If some officials are imprisoned or executed for corruption, it’s supposed to legitimize the system that allows the rest of them to acquire wealth and power. And if workers and peasants have a few legal channels to pursue their grievances, maybe they’ll get out of the streets and back to work.
The officials greatly fear that struggles will become connected to one another, tied together by organizations whose ideas pose a political alternative to the party’s. So far, however, two factors have helped prevent the participants in these struggles from looking more broadly for solidarity. One is a widespread awareness that the state would crack down heavily on broader movements; there has thus been a tactical advantage in keeping the focus of agitation narrow, even when the participants understand that their grievances raise wider questions. The other factor preventing the widening of struggles is a history of residential, ethnic, and cultural segmentation within the workforce, including a sense that workers of different backgrounds are in competition with one another.
Until lately, it has looked like the party’s greatest claim to popular consent has been that the economy is still growing—and that working people can get a bigger share of the new wealth if they put up a fight. In recent years, bosses have been willing to make concessions because they want workers to get back to work. As a result, workers in the coastal boom areas have experienced double-digit growth in wages for several years.13
The protests of Tibetan workers and peasants take place in this broader context of struggles from below. No doubt, many participants in the recent protests have already taken part in or witnessed previous class struggle. In this context, it’s quite conceivable that Han Chinese workers and peasants could come to sympathize with Tibetan demands for equal rights. But China’s rulers have another ideological ace up their sleeves besides the promise of being included in continued economic growth. The other major way that they draw workers and peasants into loyalty to the state is to play up an identification with a common “national interest”—supposedly shared by workers and bosses against the interests of other nationalities. Unfortunately for Tibetans, Han nationalist sentiment has been employed with a vengeance against Tibetans since the protests began, both in the major media and, with special racist venom, on the Internet.14 Another major component of nationalist anger, beyond domestic racism, is resentment at Western support for the protests.
It’s not clear how much damage this tide of racism will do, but some people, including some Han Chinese, are standing up against it. Wang Lixiong, quoted above, authored a denunciation, signed by thirty intellectuals, of “the one-sided propaganda of the official Chinese media [which] is having the effect of stirring up interethnic animosity.” The group condemned the “Cultural-Revolution-like language such as, ‘the Dalai Lama is a jackal in monk’s robes and an evil spirit with the heart of a beast’ [a phrase from the TAR’s hardline party chief, Zhang Qingli.].”15 Wang and his wife, Tsering Woeser, also an activist author, are both now under house arrest.
Despite the current intensity of ethnic division, recent Chinese history has a notable example of Han Chinese extending solidarity toward oppressed nationalities—the 1989 democracy movement in Tiananmen Square. Uighur and Tibetan students played prominent roles in the movement—notably the outspoken Uighur student Uerkesh Daolet (whose adopted Chinese name is Wuer Kaixi)—and participants viewed Tibetan protests that occurred earlier in the year as precursors to their own movement. Given the depth of class anger against the bosses, current Han nationalist agitation may not be able to secure the loyalty of workers and peasants for long, especially since the countdown to the August Olympics is likely to bring many new twists into China’s politics. It’s possible that the March protests will eventually become known as precursors to much bigger explosions.
Getting ourselves on the right side of the struggle
It is important for socialists and other progressives to support the Tibetans’ struggle, both for what it is and what it could lead to. It is already a movement for democratic rights, including the basic right of national self-determination. It could also help produce a major leap in the political maturity of struggle across China. Yet many on the left are held back from full support of the revolt by lingering sympathy for China’s one-party state; they are quick to point to the historically repressive role of the Buddhist lamas who once ruled Tibet, as well as the U.S. funding of the moderate Tibetan exile opposition.
The Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) of the U.S., for example, recognizes that inequality and Han chauvinism have been stoked in Tibet by market capitalist development, and thus acknowledge some of the roots of Tibetans’ current revolt. But the major focus of their statement, “Tibet: From brutal theocracy to socialist liberation to capitalist nightmare,”16 is on the horrors of lamaist domination and its sequel, when the arrival of Chinese Communist troops supposedly brought liberation. There can be no doubt that the now-defunct Tibetan feudal society was built on grinding oppression, including serfdom and slavery, but that does not transform the Mao years into a period when Tibetan workers, peasants, and herders took their fate into their own hands.
It is particularly wrenching when the RCP points to the years of the Cultural Revolution as the heyday of Tibetan progress, the very years when religious repression was at its peak. It is true that the lamaist tradition, like the medieval Christian Church in the West, was an integral part of feudal oppression. But that does not mean that the way to fight the oppression is to eradicate the religion, or that a chauvinist occupying force is a proper tool for liberation—the Han Chinese version of the “white man’s burden.” It also doesn’t mean that Buddhism would be incapable of adapting to support whatever social order ultimately prevails in Tibet; religions are remarkably flexible in response to historic change.
Even though the form and intensity of repression has varied since Mao’s time, the continuity is striking. It suggests that there is some important commonality between Mao’s “socialist liberation” and today’s “capitalist nightmare.” In fact, Mao’s party had very much the same objectives as today’s party—the development of productive capacity on a national basis in order to establish China on a competitive footing with other nations.17 Then, as now, orders came from above. Labor discipline was harsh, as it is now. It is jarring to read accounts of the “abolition of slavery” from leftists who go on to admit that Mao’s China employed forced labor for “socialist construction.” Even some of the more careful leftist commentators such as Michael Parenti make this mistake. Human rights activist Joshua Schrei retorted recently on the Dissident Voice Web site that, “Perhaps Parenti would like to sit down and have a chat with the relatives of the thousands of Tibetans who were worked to death by Chinese soldiers at the infamous Borax mine in Changthang.”18
The source of continuity of Tibet’s oppression lies in a common cause that applies over the decades—a society and economy that are organized from the top down. In this context, the differences between the old state and the new state are secondary. During the 1960s and 1970s, repression took place under a state that was trying to exert total control over the economy. Today, private capital is a partner of the state, but the need for repressive methods remains. This is the difference between state capitalism and market capitalism, not the difference between a “socialist road” and a “capitalist road.” Because state capitalism was also a social form in which workers and peasants took orders from above, nationalist ideology in Mao’s time played an important role in binding China’s masses to its rulers. This nationalism, then as now, lies behind Han Chinese participation in the oppression of Tibetans.
If the RCP finds a contorted way to sympathize with the grievances of Tibetans, the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) has placed itself on the wrong side of the struggle—foursquare in support of state repression. In the opening lines of the PSL’s statement in support of the crackdown, the party displays its disregard for the right of self-determination: “The vast majority of the peoples of China, including many in Tibet,” they write, “oppose the U.S.-supported separatist movement.”19 But if we were to rely on the opinion of “the majority of the peoples,” as PSL does, we would rule out the decisive point about self-determination: The minority nationality must decide its own fate.
PSL’s excuse for supporting state repression is the need to oppose U.S. imperialism and its scheme to restore the Dalai Lama—and Tibetan feudalism—to power as a client state of the West. “Bush views the Dalai Lama in much the same way he viewed Ahmed Chalabi before the invasion of Iraq—as a useful tool for U.S. empire.” If PSL didn’t reflexively skip over the question of how Tibetans view things, the party would notice a major difference: Few outside a small number of pro-U.S. expatriate Iraqis knew who Ahmed Chalabi was, but tens of thousands of Tibetans view the Dalai Lama as their leader. If self-determination is to mean something real, Tibetans must be able to follow the leaders they prefer, not those recommended by the CCP or PSL.
This does not mean that outside supporters of self-determination need to endorse the same leaders that the oppressed do. It’s possible—in fact, necessary—for the Left to be critical of the Dalai Lama’s politics and suspicious of his connection to the U.S. at the same time that we respect Tibetans’ right to self-determination.
Suspicions about U.S. interference are justified. It is not outlandish to suppose that movements of oppressed nationalities can become pawns in the hands of foreign imperialists. The U.S. manipulated the Kosovar Albanians’ struggle in the 1999 war against Serbia, as it has done with the Iraqi Kurds in recent years. But this picture doesn’t fit the Tibetan situation. In the first place, it’s hard to see how a feudal ruling class, now fifty years out of power, could undo the decades of economic development in Tibet under Chinese rule—development that the PSL is proud to advertise as an achievement of “socialism.” In the second place, the key products of that development may be the Tibetan workers and peasants themselves, whose recent activity suggests that they are capable of asserting their interests against any new Tibetan elite if they need to. In this respect, the emerging Tibetan national movement resembles many others, where different class forces contend. So the choice is not, as the PSL would have it, between continued Chinese domination and the restoration of feudalism. The crucial choice is going to be what kind of liberation movement Tibetans wage.
PSL’s views render its spokespeople incapable of considering this question. Their recent statements make no mention of Tibetan grievances, so they convey no sense of what the fight is about—and certainly no sense of how to carry it forward. Concerning oppression, the PSL statement only remarks: “Many progressives in the United States believe that Tibet is severely repressed by the People’s Republic of China.” Then it moves on, as if this belief is self-evidently false.
The heart of PSL’s case for the Chinese possession of Tibet is their defense of the member of a “socialist camp”—admittedly reduced in size since the Cold War, but still including Cuba and North Korea. In this schema of international relations, a struggle between the Chinese state and U.S.-backed forces is, by definition, a class struggle, because China is in some sense a “workers’ state.” In a world where imperialism and “workers’ states” contend,
Every national struggle…contains within itself a class struggle. Tibet is not simply a nationality united by religion, culture and history. There are two classes deep in struggle.To persist in calling China a “workers’ state”—a society dominated by multi-millionaire capitalists, receiving massive foreign investment stoking high growth rates based on high rates of exploitation, all buttressed by a repressive police state—shows how completely out of touch with reality the PSL is. This portrayal of the Chinese state as the representative of workers’ interests and those of “the vast majority of Tibetans” presents an upside-down view of China’s social relations and recent struggles. The current revolt of Tibetans takes place in the context of a massive wave of workers and peasants’ struggle against a social elite in which the private bosses, the party, and the “workers state” are intimately intertwined. The Tibetan fight has common roots with the struggles of Han Chinese—in the inequality and social dislocation that have characterized China’s breakneck development.
One of these classes is the former landlord class, which never gave up its dream to reconquer its privilege. It is backed by U.S. imperialism, whose objective is breaking up China.
The other is the vast majority of Tibetans, who—despite the shortcomings and mistakes of the central government—have greatly benefited from the Chinese revolution.20
For leftists to place themselves against the Tibetan revolt is to ignore what Tibetans have in common with Han Chinese workers and peasants. It’s also to ignore the major task that leftists in China need to take on—to frame the ideas and build organizations that can bridge the divisions among China’s workers, peasants, and oppressed—and pose a real political challenge to all of China’s current rulers, from the Han Chinese officials to the Tibetan elite.
In the U.S., the Left needs to continue to expose the hypocrisy of politicians who decry the abuse of human rights overseas as they pursue their own violent course to exploit the world’s workers and resources from New York to Baghdad. These worldwide purveyors of oppression are up to no good in their support for the Dalai Lama. The experience of other oppressed nationalities has shown that U.S. support represents a hazard in the struggle for self-determination, not an advantage.
The control over the future course of resistance in China, however, is not in the hands of the State Department or the Dalai Lama. It’s up for grabs. The political views that develop in China among workers, peasants, and the oppressed will make the crucial difference. A Chinese movement for genuine socialism and liberation is possible on the basis of antiracist unity against all the bosses—unity that requires an adamant defense of the right of self-determination for oppressed nationalities. The efforts of solidarity activists in the West would also benefit from adopting the same sort of politics.
David Whitehouse is the ISR’s reviews editor.
1 Michael Parenti, “Friendly feudalism: The Tibet myth,” January 2008, http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html.
2 “Trashing the Beijing road,” Economist, March 22, 2008.
3 Edward Cody, “During crackdown in Tibet, Uighurs pursued own protest,” Washington Post, April 3, 2008.
4 Parenti, “Friendly feudalism.”
5 “Tibet: China must end rural reconstruction campaign,” Human Rights Watch, December 20, 2006, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/12/20/china14903.htm.
6 Shai Oster, “In Tibet’s capital, government pushes its side of story,” Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2008.
7 Antoaneta Bezlova, “China: Under pressure to rethink Tibet policy,” Inter Press Service, March 21, 2008, http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=41686.
8 “Dalai Lama group says it got money from CIA,” New York Times, October 2, 1998.
9 Parenti, “Friendly feudalism.”
10 Simon Leys has written eloquently about the party’s ideological objectives during this period in “Human rights in China,” The Burning Forest (New York: Henry Holt, 1986), 115–35.
11 On the connection between the CCP’s view of the law and imperial legal doctrine, see William C. Jones, “Trying to understand the current Chinese legal system,” in C. Stephen Hsu, ed., Understanding China’s Legal System (New York: New York University Press, 2003), 7–45.
12 Roland Soong takes a critical look at China’s accounting of mass unrest in “China: Statistics of mass incidents,” November 26, 2006, http://zonaeuropa.com/20061115_1.htm.
13 Alexandra Harney, “Bye-bye cheap labor,” Far Eastern Economic Review, March 2008.
14 Canadian blogger John Kennedy, who is based in Guangdong, translates some of this venom into English at http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/2008/04/13/china-fallout-from-the-free-tibet-protests/.
15 Full text of the statement is at http://tibetanflags.cn/terra/2008/03/23/text-of-chinese-intellectuals%E2%80%99-letter-to-chinese-government/.
16 “Tibet: From brutal theocracy to socialist liberation to capitalist nightmare,” Revolution, April 7, 2008, available online at http://revcom.us/a/125/tibet-background-en.html.
17 The ISR is part of a tradition that has characterized Mao’s China as a state capitalist regime. For an extended defense of this view, see Nigel Harris’s 1978 book, The Mandate of Heaven: Marx and Mao in Modern China, available online at http://www.marxists.de/china/harris/index.htm.
18 Joshua Michael Schrei, “A lie repeated: The far Left’s flawed history of Tibet,” http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2008/04/a-lie-repeated-the-far-left%E2%80%99s-flawed-history-of-tibet/.
19 PSL statement, “China, Tibet, and U.S.-sponsored counterrevolution,” http://www.pslweb.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8845&news_iv_ctrl=126.