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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 19

Chinese Olympics and the Tibetan Question

Sunday 27 April 2008, by Shree Shankar Sharan


There is an Asian sentiment attached to the Chinese Olympics and most of us strongly share in China’s coming of age and ranking among the top countries of the world. This is also a matter of joy to us in all of Asia. Her extraordinary work-ethic and organisation with which she has risen as an economic superpower is a matter of pride for the entire Third world.

Her politics of one-party rule, with shades of one-man dictatorship born out of the Chinese revolution, though distasteful to democracies, no longer jars as it did before, because China has chosen to be more pragmatic than dogmatic in managing her economy. Gone is the orthodoxy of the old economic order.

China is an old civilisation and not just a modern nation transformed by communism. She has been led by great leaders and great ideas like those of Confucius and Tao and Buddha as it travelled from India, before Marx and Mao with their overdose of economics and class conflict and underdose of culture and humanity appeared on the scene.

There is no doubt that China has managed her economy extremely well and also set a model of communism coexisting with capitalism. It is clearly different from free market capitalism running the economy and the lives of an entire people by the power of profit and dominating crucial domestic and foreign policy of the country—democracy as a regulator often bends before money power, though sometimes it does not.

But China has the handicap of being the descendant of the Middle kingdom and of Han rule, and occasionally being touched by their arrogance.
Besides, as a communist power it treats with disdain any way of life that does not fit into neat Marxist categories. Thus a country or region which is not communist is either bourgeois capitalist or feudal. That is how it looks at the Tibetan way of life.

To China the intensely religious life of Tibet is a feudal relic, an anachronism, or an absolute humbug. There those who are devoted to a deeply religious life are always suspect of wanting to usurp social and political power under a false garb.

Just as power is a communist or Marxist obsession, its renunciation the essence of a religious life, but a Communist is unable to comprehend it.
This fundamental rejection of another way of life than communism or capitalism is at the heart of the Chinese hostility to or distrust of Tibetans and their oversuspiciousness of the Dalai Lama or the Buddist monks.

Not all Buddhists are at the same stage of spiritual evolution. While the Dalai Lama is incapable of violence or all the ulterior motives that the Chinese attribute to him, that some Buddhist monks should compromise with violence is understandable.

THE kind of vicarious responsibility for violence that the Chinese have pinned on the Dalai Lama is reminiscent of the British blaming Mahatma Gandhi for scary acts violence in course of his essentially non-violent non-cooperation move-ments. The reason was the same, the inability of the British or the Chinese to comprehend the ethical dimension of the Mahatma or the Dalai Lama.

Whether or not Tibet is a part of China as an autonomous region or without it cannot be decided by anybody other than the Tibetans. The idea of Tibet is what makes a man Tibetan and not a Chinese. The power of an idea should not be underestimated. It is what drives history and does not let history drive it.

It is evident that in spite of 60 years of Chinese rule, Tibetans are still seized with the idea of Tibet. No doctrine, no exercise in rationality, no military repression can destroy that idea. It will only reinforce it.

The Chinese to prove that they are not hegemonistic or expansionist should concede to the Tibetan their way of life, by granting them political autonomy, while guiding her towards greater economic equity.

It is at this moment of glory for China, the moment of hosting a global Olympic event and winning global acclaim that they should offer to accommodate Tibetan aspirations just as they have accommodated Hongkong’s private enterprise and capitalism.

They should cool the anger they have caused in the wide world by their repression of the Tibetan protest with grace and pragmatism by applying their policy of one-country two-systems to Tibet and make the Olympic torch shine brighter with Tibetan reconciliation and global acclaim.

As I told a Chinese professor who spoke glowingly of the benefits that China has brought to the common man in Tibet as opposed to the Buddhist monks who sat off on the country’s wealth, even development like democracy cannot be forced on a people. If the USA is wrong in Iraq so would China be in Tibet.

An improvement in India-China relations will solve the Tibetan problem, if their official relations with China are balanced with cultural relation with India.

The author is the President of the Awami Eka Manch.

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