China Defense – Today, when I heard about the botched attempt by the U.S. to bug the Chinese President’s personal aircraft (come on, how many freekin’ bugs did they need, anyway?), I remembered that I owe Tom Wiebe a response to his critique of my previous pro-China piece. First, today’s finding should reinforce what I was saying before about China’s motives in going with Red Flag and being supportive of the Microsoft joint venture. Two days ago I said that it was “responsible” for the Chinese to be paranoid about things that came from foreign interests. Now you can see why. On the other hand, I don’t think the “boys will be boys” brush-off that the incident has been given by the pundits is going to cut it. This is a serious breach of trust, and if I were Boeing, I would be suing the government. At the same time as our government was fabricating charges against Wen Ho Lee (he was Taiwanese for God’s sake!) and pretending that anyone with slanted eyes is a spy (remember all of the news articles about how Chinese students were all spies, because presumably Chinese people are all zombies who are controlled by the communist party like an ant-hill is controlled by the queen), they were busy compromising all trust that independent American organizations have spent so much effort building up in China. The press is making noise like “this and the spyplane incident are just the way countries operate; no big deal.” But this isn’t how China operates. When has China ever sent spy planes over our soil? When was the last time China got caught planting way-to-many bugs in Air Force One? It’s not business as usual — it is stupid escalation in preparation for war against an enemy who is not even an enemy.
Well, I am sure the “boys with bugs” have some internal justification for screwing over the mutual trust between our countries’ businesses, but I doubt it has much to do with reality. The wealth of reports I pointed to previously all tell a similar story about China’s pleasant demeanor. Interestingly, none of them make a big deal out of the issue that Tom mentions. Even the United Nations has failed to bring up the Tibet “issue” since 1965, while Israel gets regularly lambasted. One must wonder, then, what is it that the oh-so-enlightened guy at the vegan health food store and the Wiccan with the “Free Tibet” bumper sticker know that the U.N. and our military planners don’t? The fact is, Tibet has been a part of China since before the USA even existed. For a period of time, the people of Tibet were impoverished and opressed by an autocratic religious cult that did not recognize the difference between “church” and “state”, but they have been liberated for many years and are again enjoying prosperity. I am not aware of any world government except the government of college-town sophisticates which does not recognize the Tibet Autonomous Zone as being legitimately ruled by China. Here are some facts:
Religion is not outlawed in China. In fact, even Tibetan buddhism is respected, and some of the largest religious buildings in Beijing are Tibetan. As my previous post and today’s events should make clear, the Chinese government is firmly opposed to anything that tries to usurp governmental powers, and any religious group that attempts to form political movement (and worse yet, dissent) will be crushed. The claim to power for the Dalai Lama is rooted entirely in religious belief. Any government or nation that is based entirely on the tenets of one religion is not going to be a government that represents the people. Democracy is no doubt an important characteristic of a nation, but secularism is just as essential. Tibet had neither. The government structure was more autocratic and secretive than even the Pope, and the basis of the alleged “nation” was clearly religious. How can the world tolerate such a government, let alone attempt to prop it up? And how can people who claim to be so enlightened convince themselves that it is acceptable to put the reins of a government in the hands of autocratic religious cult leaders? It defies common sense. And keep in mind that China has never persecuted buddhism (or any other religion for that matter); China simply forbids political religion. China is one of the most diverse multi-ethnic and multi-religious nations in the world — they do this by being ruthlessly efficient in their separation of church and state. I have taken lessons from two Tibetan Rinpoches and meditated at the temple here in Seattle, so I’m not trying to de-humanize the plight that some of these individuals have endured. They are wonderful people, and no doubt inspired by a love of humanity. However, admiring someone’s sincere motives and deeds does not automatically mean they are always right. And when someone says that it would be a “good thing” to let the Dalai Lama rule a country, I think that person has been so stunned by the Lama’s sweet countenance that they have temporarily lost their brain. Saying, “Dalai Lama is a nice human” does not mean “China has no right to rule Tibet”. And I can say from personal experience that the Tibetan diapora is a very political movement, so they shouldn’t be surprised that the Chinese government would rather they stay abroad.
And despite the much-publicized incident of a Tibetan “child buddha” being detained by the Chinese, the lives of the normal Tibetan people have improved dramatically since the liberation by the PLA. Tibet is undergoing rapid modernization (which is no doubt considered a crime by some people) and people participate in their local political processes. Admittedly, the political process is not “democracy”, but being able to join the party or various local councils is still an improvement over waiting to find out who would become the “child buddha” and wield supreme power.
Interesting insight can come from reading the declarations of the “Tibetan Government in Exile”. For example, in one document, they announce that they are no longer going to adhere to an agreement they reached. The first thing to notice is their insistence on associating themselves with democracy, citing “Tibetan Democracy Day” in the first paragraph. Am I the only one who finds it ironic that an organization run by someone who demands to be called “His Holiness” and has never done anything in a democratic manner would decide to paint themselves as “democratic”? Even more disturbing is the way that this short document spends so much time dwelling on the subject of “ethnic purity”. They bemoan the fact that people of other ethnic groups are moving into Tibet and diluting the purity of their race. Freedom of movement seems to be a hallmark of any democracy, so one wonders what kind of democracy these people are hoping to install? Maybe a democracy that doesn’t allow people of various “undesirable” ethnic groups to live there? Maybe an “apartheid” system where only people who were members of the Lama’s religion get to vote? What would His Holiness have done if he had installed his “democracy” and discovered that there was a diverse ethnic population? Perhaps engage in a little “cleansing”? How can these college-town sophisticates with their dreds and birkenstocks support a religious cult that is also based on maintaining ethnic purity of one ethnic group? It boggles the mind. One quote that I found very perceptive though, was this: “However, judging from the official statements and the experience of our recent contacts with the Chinese government, it is clear that the present leadership lacks a sincere commitment to find a solution to the issue.” Maybe there is no commitment to find a solution to “the issue” because it isn’t even an issue for the Chinese! I mean, the government in exile has an “issue”, but the people of Tibet are pretty happy, and the government of China is just running the country like they do every day. And not even the U.N. is fretting over “the issue” anymore. It gets kind of lonely getting people to negotioate “the issue” when you are the only one who has a problem.
Another post from just two days ago shows how strident the political rhetoric of this religious group can be. The correspondent admits that he has never in his life seen Tibet, then claims that “I hear that in Tibet it is difficult to find trustworthy friends. Every other person may be a spy for the Chinese.” So in a place where his ethnic group is the minority, even his own ethnic group are half working for the enemy. Strange to find opressed people so willing to work with the opressor. Next, he leaps from the concept that Tibet is a pacifist place to declaring “It is time we worked together for the independence of Tibet and for a safe and secure border for India.” If they are pacifists, how do they hope to provide security to India’s border. And furthermore, India’s border with China seems to be rather stable right now (although India still occupies some territory that was originally granted to China, most observers feel that China would rather that territory be administered by India anyway). Vajpayee is probably sitting in his office right now thinking, “Crap, with all this talk of economic growth and Pakistan threat, I missed the real threat. Heck, China might march right down here and depose my own secular self! I need some warriors to help defend me; I need FREE TIBET!”.
I’ll mention in closing another one of the popular China-bashing themes — that of human rights. The press gave very little treatment to the fact that the United States was recently voted off the United Nation human rights commitee, and China is a member. Of course, most would admit that running over students with tanks is abusive (as was shooting down students at Kent State), so it would be dumb to argue that China has a flawless human rights record. But, as the “boys with bugs” case should demonstrate, we should always try to hide that plank in our own eye before we start advertising our sliver-removal service. It is interesting that China has about 300,000 people in prison and a population of 1.2 billion, while America has 3 million people in prison and a population of 300 million. We have a population that is just 1/4th the size, but a criminal justice system that is ten times as large. Or, in perspective, our criminal justice system is 40 times more likely to lock up someone than China’s. And it’s not like our prisons are the most humane places. In fact, the prison situation in America is something that is unprecedented in the history of civilized nations — never before has a nation locked up so many of it’s own, and I think that qualifies as a “human rights concern”. No, this doesn’t justify abuses elsewhere, but the point is that the world is evolving and everyone is trying to figure things out. Pretending that America has got it all figured out (better than China) is arrogant and premature. As China’s economic situation improves, we already see improvements in human rights (while our prison population exploded during the “largest legal creation of wealth in the history of mankind”, as we so fondly called our bubble). There is no doubt that poverty causes human suffering, and human suffering causes people to do bad things. But if we are to condemn China for the suffering that their people felt when impoverished, would we then put the Dalai Lama on trial for the intense poverty the Tibetans endured under religious rule? Is Mao a savior for having the foresight to deliver Tibet from the opressive human-rights abuse known as poverty?
Perhaps another example closer to Tom’s heart would be the plight of the Hong Kong expatriates who left Hong Kong just before the Chinese resumed control of the port. Many of the wealthy ethnic Chinese wanted to move their money and persons somewhere they felt would be less risky. Many of them ended up in Tom’s area: West Vancouver, enjoying Canada’s liberal Visa policies while storing their money in tax havens outside of Canada. Not long after this mass migration started to wind down, though, the B.C. government decided to pass a new law permitting them to tax residents based on holdings outside of Canada. In other words, the rules changed, and all of the wealth that the refugees thought they had protected was no longer protected. The most interesting thing about the law (to me) was that somehow it didn’t apply to the Bronfman family money. The provision was not overtly targeting the new immigrants, but that was the effective result.
There are no obvious answers, and that’s the lesson. Answers like “China is an agressive human-rights abuser” and “Free Tibet!” are just too simple. It’s easy to make simple assertions like these when the people we’re talking about are on the other side of the ocean, but they are humans too — 1.2 billion humans who aren’t any different than the rest of us. Is it really reasonable to think that they are all wired backwards (or worse yet, they are stupid thralls of some evil dictator and lack the free will and initiative that we have to participate in their political processes with good motives)? It’s just not logical, and I don’t think Americans have the luxury of ignorance any more. We can think deeper than that.