Tuesday, March 25, 2008

China and the Olympics

Aside from the presidential election, this year's other big discussion might be about Tibetan independence and China's lingering authoritarianism in light of the Beijing Olympics.
I will confess that my study of China and its culture has been limited, but as an outsider I cannot help but wonder what kind of people are allowed to run a country that large and not face more critical inspection by foreign leaders and journalists. Perhaps it's their tight grip on journalism and information there, but are we that profit- and fluff news- oriented that we won't stand up to such a regime?
Many leaders are hoping that increased international scrutiny provided by the Olympics will bring about change in China, towards a freer Tibet or a more transparent and democratic society. NBC is even banking on it.
However, the recent protests in Tibet and elsewhere are showing that even though China's information flow is improving somewhat, it's still not ready to play nice for the camera:

Worldwide protests have erupted over this issue, and I would expect them to last at least until the last Olympic contest is over and everyone goes home. The Chinese can only hope that more people will begin to look at Tibet issue through their eyes and see that Tibet is just a bright and shining little brother of a province that is totally multi ethnic and full of happy Chinese people save for those whiny Tibetans. If this were truly the case, and the Dalai Lama is just some tool for the CIA, I could understand China's point of view. However, blocking media access and harassing foreign critics isn't the trademark of an innocent party.
Additionally, a Rolling Stone article provides more insights into the ways that China is treating Tibetans, as well as ways that they are hoping to co-opt Tibet without the bad press photos and protester-murdering:

As the women chanted "Free Tibet," Chinese police moved quickly, knocking them to the ground and dragging them to jail before their protest could attract attention. Inside the prison, Chinese authorities subjected the nuns to a brutal routine. "Police stuck electric prods into my vagina and then hung me from the ceiling," Zangmo says softly. Her voice doesn't waver, but she looks away. Some of her friends lost consciousness as soon as guards pushed the cattle prods inside them, but Zangmo remained alert throughout the torture. "I was totally, totally frightened," she says.

Police eventually transferred the women to Drapchi, the most feared prison in Lhasa. According to human rights organizations, there are hundreds of political prisoners in Tibet, the majority of them Buddhist clergy. Scores have died from torture at the hands of Chinese authorities: electric shock, hanging, forced blood extraction. "They tried to pull my arms out of my sockets, and beat my legs and arms with metal bars and shocked me," recalls Phuntsog Nyidron, another nun who was imprisoned at Drapchi. "I was worried they could easily kill me."
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But Tibet's time may be running out. In the past decade, China has waged a quiet but ruthless war on Tibetan society -- part of a deliberate and sophisticated campaign to strip "the Roof of the World" of any vestige of spirituality or political autonomy. Beijing has systematically replaced Tibet's holiest monks -- the center of Tibetan power -- with its own puppet leaders, torturing and killing those who refuse to submit to Chinese authority. It has flooded Tibet with thousands of Chinese immigrants, who have seized control of local businesses, driving many Tibetans into poverty and prostitution.
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As Lhasa is rebuilt from the ground up, Tibetans are being pushed to the margins -- in the newer section of the city, I cannot find a single Tibetan-owned shop. And the pace of change is only likely to increase: Last summer, China opened the first rail line to Tibet, a move expected to flood the territory with as many as 800,000 migrants and tourists each year.

The sweeping changes in Lhasa are no accident. "The government has a long-term strategy to encourage more Chinese businesspeople to come to Tibet, so it'll be easier to control the Tibetan people," admits one former Chinese official. (Although the Chinese embassy declined to comment, many government officials spoke to me on the condition of anonymity.) Beijing has made it easier for migrants to gain residence in Tibet, and the region receives more government subsidies than other provinces in China. The cash has sparked growth and created prosperity -- but it often primarily benefits Chinese migrants. According to one former official, government bureaucrats convince rural Tibetans to give up their land, promising them that they will be given property in the city. "But then they never give the Tibetans any compensation," the official explains. Instead, the bureaucrats give the land to Chinese entrepreneurs, throwing in loans to help them start their own companies.
Is it possible for good change to happen in Tibet? I'm not sure, but I hope that the increased scrutiny stemming from the Olympics will at least ease the Tibetan's plight a bit.
-Matt

1 comment:

J. R. Miller said...

I recently blogged on this myself and I hope something can be done to bring change... Too many people / nations are interested in profit over people.