Saturday, August 02, 2008

Beijing strikes gold

DailyTimes: VIEW: — Edward Friedman

It is actually in China’s interest to make a deal with the Dalai Lama and begin to heal the rift between Han Chinese and Tibetans. This would not only help defuse the disaffection in Tibet, but would lend real lustre to China’s world leadership

On the eve of the Beijing Olympic Games, many human rights activists and observers continue to hope that the Chinese Communist Party’s embrace of odious regimes such as Burma’s and Sudan’s, and its oppression of Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, and Falun Gong spiritualists, will lead democratic heads of state to boycott the Olympics, or athletes and spectators to demonstrate on behalf of the victims. I doubt it. The only demonstrations are likely to be those celebrating China’s massive gold medal count.

No one should underestimate China’s will and capacities, especially when it sets its collective mind on a goal. China is a budding superpower that has amassed the largest foreign exchange reserves in the world. No major government will risk retaliation by insulting the Chinese regime with a boycott or public protest. Indeed, France has already dispatched representatives to Beijing to apologise for supporting the Dalai Lama, and for the protests that took place during the Olympic torch relay in Paris.

From Seoul to Sydney to San Francisco, citizens in democracies were angered at how Chinese visitors bullied into silence powerless Tibetans demanding minimal rights on behalf of their brethren in authoritarian China. But the reality is that the Chinese regime has largely neutralised the international human rights movement. In the wake of the Sichuan earthquake, criticism of China will be even more muted.

In 1997, Denmark, a nation whose people are demonstrably committed to human rights, asked the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva to look into the CCP’s long track record of abuse. China responded by cancelling a Danish trade mission. France got the message, and the French soon stopped promoting human rights resolutions directed at China. The French were then rewarded with a string of lucrative contracts in China.

The United States, however, persisted, and China prevailed upon its allies to vote the US off the UN Human Rights Commission. Although China is the world leader in capital punishment and imprisoned activists, its human rights record is no longer a matter for significant international scrutiny.

Although China touts its aid and investment in Africa as being given without strings, governments that accept it repay China in natural resources and political capital. They eschew official relations with Taiwan. They vote to protect China from human rights investigations. They agree not stand up for the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism, or Tibetan victims in China. Many African nations ship a large percentage of their GDP to China every year.

Europeans see Chinese money in Africa as undermining international efforts to promote good governance, and they worry that Chinese funds are used to shore up corrupt authoritarian regimes. Certainly, China has plenty of cash, states its demands clearly, and asks few questions, and the combination of such policies and economic clout has won it followers.

But a few bold voices have made themselves heard. South Africa’s Nobel laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu has spoken out forthrightly on behalf of Tibetan rights, and South African trade unionists recently refused to unload Chinese weapons headed to Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe. South Korea’s government expressed its distaste for how Chinese visitors assaulted peaceful human rights demonstrators as the Olympic torch passed through that country.

Of course, in response to the global outcry, China has yielded a bit on Tibet, with Chinese officials meeting with representatives of the Dalai Lama. But, as with the March 2008 Tibetan demonstrators, anyone at the Olympics who tries to call attention to the regime’s record of abusing human rights will be dealt with firmly. The government has reinforced its security system, and have put in place a ubiquitous system of surveillance cameras. Visas are being denied to anyone active on behalf of human rights, with the unintended side effect of hurting international business in China.

But China’s priority is not just to perpetuate economic growth. Rather, it is to encourage growth while protecting its power. The regime is set on proving to the world that China, once again a world power, can stage a spectacular performance, and that its voice will be heeded.

The message of the Beijing Olympics, then, is that China’s political system not only manages international affairs adroitly, but that the “Chinese way” should be seen as superior even to democratic systems. The CCP’s relentless efforts will no doubt lead to continued economic growth, ensure political stability, and generate significant worldwide support.

But the regime has missed one key point in its relentless march to a “successful” Olympics. It is actually in China’s interest to make a deal with the Dalai Lama and begin to heal the rift between Han Chinese and Tibetans. This would not only help defuse the disaffection in Tibet, but would lend real lustre to China’s world leadership, and indicate the kind of mature decision-making that marks a true “great power”. —DT-PS

Edward Friedman is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the author of numerous books, most recently What if China Doesn’t Democratise? Implications for War and Peace

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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