While China is desperate to present a benign image to the world in anticipation of the summer Olympics, the brutal crackdown on Tibetans determined to defend their language, religion and culture, betrays the real nature of the authoritarian regime in Beijing.
While a wave of demonstrations and oppression rages inside and outside Tibet, the response in Western capitals is muted to say the least. Concerned more about maintaining trade with China – whose reserves literally prop up the ailing dollar – Bush and Brown do no more than express “concern” while the bloodshed continues.
The Chinese authorities’ attempts to blame Tibetan “attacks” on Han Chinese for the crackdown is disgusting. Chinese troops were sent in last week when a march by 300 monks from the Drepung Monastery outside Lhasa grew rapidly into probably the biggest protest since early 1989. Then, under China’s present president, Hu Jintao, 200 demonstrators were killed. This time, a hail of police fire killed around 100 Tibetans, amongst them boys and girls, according to eyewitnesses. All the reports show that the Tibetan capital, Lhasa has been transformed into a war zone. There are troops on the streets with armoured vehicles warning people to stay off the streets or face lethal force.
By shutting down access to Tibet-related internet sites anywhere in China and curbing mobile coverage, the authorities seek to hide the extent of the killings. But despite the ferocity of the crackdown, Tibetans feel this could be a chance for their cause to resonate around the world. "Total desperation has arrived," said Lhadon Tethong of Students for a Free Tibet. "The people of Tibet are fighting for their religious and cultural survival. With the Beijing Olympics only five months away, many see it as now or never."
The stakes in this confrontation are extremely high on all sides. Chinese rule is reliant on political control by the Communist Party – a Stalinist, bureaucratic organisation which is desperate to cling to power. Party bureaucrats have become monstrously rich by making deals with the global corporations. They are terrified of losing sovereignty in Tibet, because it could signal the unravelling of Chinese control in Taiwan as well as in Xingang in the north. Meanwhile the rest of the capitalist world, particularly the global banking system, is deeply in hock to the Chinese government.
For Tibetans, the struggle goes back to 1950, when Chinese forces invaded Tibet. They have been denied the right to their culture, language and religion for decades. By flooding the area with Han Chinese immigrants, Beijing has hoped to smother Tibet’s own traditions. But in fact, it was Britain’s invasion into Lhasa in 1903-4, which turned the hitherto inaccessible mountain area into a pawn in the struggle for domination between the Russian and British empires. A hundred years later, economic interests are still to the fore, particularly as the international banking system staggers from one crisis to the next.
Campaigners for human rights in Tibet are calling on Brown and foreign secretary Miliband to condemn the Chinese government’s brutal attack on the basic rights of Tibetans. Matt Whitticase of the Free Tibet Campaign denounced Brown’s silence on human rights during his recent trip to China as “shameful”. In the end, however, New Labour puts trade and corporate interests above human rights – both in Tibet and Britain.
A World to Win Secretary