Twofish's Blog

March 18, 2008

More about Tibet

Filed under: china, tibet — twofish @ 1:43 am

Again trying to say something different here…..

One thing that I’m glad has happened is that there are a lot of foreign bloggers and some reporters writing out of Lhasa.  The reports that have been coming out are quite even handed, and its interesting that the Chinese government is trying to do a news lockdown of Tibet, when in fact the news and video coming out has made the Chinese governments position more plausible.  Whether or not the people smashing shops have good or bad reasons for doing so, they are smashing shops, and if the Chinese government had been completely successful at blocking news out of Tibet, no one in the West would
believe any talk about rock throwing mobs, rioting, and looting.  The other thing is that you really haven’t seen that many shocking videos of police beating unarmed demonstrators.  The shocking videos and pictures have largely been of mobs beating innocent people.  Yes you can try to explain this with rage and anger at oppression, but at point the Tibetans become just another oppressed minority group (and there are so many of them out there) with no particular interest to most people in the West.  Tibetans have something in the Western imagination that the Uighurs or Chechens just don’t.  One thing about the Dalai Lama is that he has traveled the world and knows how to get good press.  The person throwing rocks in Lhasa doesn’t, and then are likely to end up even more incompetent at public relations than the Chinese government is.

I also find it very interesting that everyone is talking about whether or not to boycott the olympics whereas I haven’t heard anyone suggest the obvious that the party general secretary of Tibet needs to quietly leave the scene.

One mistake people frequently make in talking about things like the Tibetan protests is that people talk about hatreds that run for the last several hundred years.  One thing that I learned in the 1990’s talking to people from Yugoslavia is that usually that isn’t the full story, and major events are usually triggered by things that happened in the last two or three years.  The reason that its important to look at things that
happened in recently, it becomes possible to figure out what to do.

In the case of Tibet, the two recent triggering events seem to an increase in migration from Sichuan and what seems to have been an intensification of anti-religious activity in the last two years.  The other thing that this seems to be linked with is the Party General Secretary that took over in 2005.  He certainly has to take some responsibility for this, and it’s actually not difficult to imagine that he could be quietly “sidelined.”

The other mistake that people make is to imagine grand dramatic gestures.  In reality, grand dramatic gestures tend to be very dangerous for bureaucracies, and what you really need are quite are very quiet channels of communications.  Hu Jintao is not going to be seen shaking hands with the Dalai Lama any time soon, but what you need is the ability to people to be able to quietly pass messages back and forth.

There is precedent for this in the form of Beijing’s relationship with the Vatican.  It’s an open secret that the Vatican has an underground hierachy in China that consists of most of the people in the official church.  Something similar is imaginable with Dharmasala, but it seems obvious that whoever is in charge of these sorts of things is doing with a lot less finesse than whoever is in charge of relations with the Vatican.

One other thing that is the case with these sorts of things is that there are often screaming bureaucratic fights that aren’t see obviously from the outside.  It’s interesting that the Chinese government goes from one second meeting secretly with the Dalai Lama’s representatives to the next second screaming how he is responsible for everything wrong.  It’s a sign of people behind the scenes not agreeing on what to do.  You also see this in the Dalai Lama’s news conference, once second he talks about “cultural genocide” and the next mentioned that well, China has done a few good things for Tibet.

The final thing that everyone has on their mind is what happens when this Dalai Lama leaves this planet.  I think that is what everyone is nervous about, and I think there is a lot of jockeying for power both in Beijing and in Dharmasala to control things once he is gone.

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