What Beijing worry?
Tibet’s burning. But let’s all be honest in accepting that there is little the world can do to force China to change its tactics and plans to suppress the uprising. The reality of the Middle Kingdom, with its economic might, far outstrips the needs of Tibet and Tibetans vying for independence or autonomy. For China, it is as much a show of resolve as it is a matter of face — both of which cannot be given away in a year when Beijing is preparing to showcase the Olympics, that grand coming-out event for which the country has been preparing for years, writes Rahul Sharma. Read more...india Updated: Oct 05, 2009 15:05 IST
Tibet’s burning. But let’s all be honest in accepting that there is little the world can do to force China to change its tactics and plans to suppress the uprising. The reality of the Middle Kingdom, with its economic might, far outstrips the needs of Tibet and Tibetans vying for independence or autonomy. For China, it is as much a show of resolve as it is a matter of face — both of which cannot be given away in a year when Beijing is preparing to showcase the Olympics, that grand coming-out event for which the country has been preparing for years.
So we will have platitudes from all directions for more democratic rights, for restrain, for more openness on the part of the Chinese authorities, even prayers for reconciliation between the powers-that-be in Beijing and what Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao terms the ‘Dalai clique’. The reality is that there probably won’t ever be a discussion in the United Nations Security Council or a vote in the UN General Assembly. There would be no sanctions and the kind of vicious criticism that followed the 1989 crackdown on student protestors at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square where the number of students killed is still unknown.
In the next few weeks, Tibet will return to being what it always has been — China’s internal issue that’s best left to the Chinese to solve. The People’s Liberation Army would have ensured compliance by the Tibetan population in Lhasa because the world would have largely kept quiet. The reason for the silence will be mainly economic. No country, least of all the world’s only superpower, the United States, has the ability to question the Chinese. So intertwined are everybody’s interests with the world’s biggest factory and the world’s biggest commodity guzzler that none — India included — can wag a finger and accuse China of something China doesn’t want to be accused of.
Look around. From the Pacific Islands to Africa and from Australia to South America, China has the world in its economic grip. Chinese money builds stadiums, railways, oil pipelines and presidential palaces. Australians apparently can’t dig fast enough to satisfy China’s needs for metals. The joke is that Western Australia sold its topsoil to China several years ago. Chinese money helps keep large economies and companies afloat.
In India, where the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan refugees live, we buy Chinese-made idols of Ganesh and Lakshmi every Diwali. Moreover, we also have the political and diplomatic compulsions that could impact our relations with our giant neighbour. We gave up Tibet’s cause a long while ago and it probably makes little sense to revive it in a manner that would surely upset Beijing now.
And how could the US accuse China of killing Tibetans when most of its economy lives off China’s vast foreign exchange reserves? China’s mammoth $ 1.5 trillion foreign exchange kitty buys dollar-denominated bonds that provide oxygen to the US economy. The world’s currency would collapse if there were no support from the Chinese. It is Chinese money that US investment banks need to stay afloat in times of financial crisis like the one currently being witnessed.
The Americans are denying that they are pulling their punches so as not to anger China. But what they have expressed is only concern. Some things don’t change. President George Bush Sr had dithered in slamming sanctions on China after the events of 1989. His son, George W, in his last year in the White House, can’t take on the Chinese as he wants to visit Beijing before saying goodbye to his presidency.
The Dalai Lama’s hands are tied. His frustration is visible in his threats of resignation. A believer in non-violence, he gave up his dream of an independent Tibet long ago and agreed to settle for Tibetan autonomy within China. His representatives have held on-and-off secret talks with the Chinese government in the past several years. Since 1959, when the Dalai Lama escaped to India as the Red Army walked into Lhasa, the Chinese government has poured billions of dollars into Tibet and connected the once far-flung region by rail to the government’s seat in Beijing. Over the years, tens of thousands of ethnic Han Chinese have poured into the once inaccessible region in search of jobs and business, skewing the population balance and making Tibetans unhappy. The migrants are there to make money as much as global companies that have set up shop in China. The world can’t complain.
The bottomline is that money matters and Chinese money matters more because there is so much more of it. The West, which was unforgiving in its criticism when the junta was cracking down on Buddhist monks in Myanmar, will have to necessarily take a middle path on Tibet because that’s the way the Middle Kingdom would want it. People who run the global economy during a downturn can’t afford to anger China. There is too much at stake, the least important of which is Tibet.