The Dalai Lama as Pariah

Aug 02

In the world of international affairs, concern for human rights usually takes second place to expediency and interest. In no area is this more obvious, and disheartening, than in the case of Tibet. It is sad to see the craven way governments and other international actors pander to the Chinese regime. Never mind the clear fact that one of the greatest crimes of a criminal century was the unprovoked Chinese aggression against Tibet, and the ongoing suppression of its unique and ancient culture.

Two years ago, the United Nations held a conference of world religious leaders to mark the millennium. The Dalai Lama was not allowed to attend. Given that only Pope John Paul II equals the Dalai Lama's status as a religious leader, this was a travesty. Nevertheless, it was perhaps understandable, given the peculiar political structure of the United Nations. The guilty party, after all, is a permanent member of the Security Council. It is perhaps also understandable that Cambodia recently refused the Dalai Lama a visa to attend a Buddhist conference. Cambodia, after all, is a small backward country situated in uncomfortable proximity to China.

The behaviour of the Australian government last May was less forgivable. The Dalai Lama was allowed to visit, but no government official met with him, and the government caved in to Chinese pressure, canceling a museum exhibit depicting Chinese oppression in Tibet. Australia was negotiating a deal to sell natural gas to China at the time. Just this month, for similar tawdry reasons of commerce and realpolitik, the Russian government reversed itself and denied the Dalai Lama a promised visa to visit that country. This sparked peaceful protests which were met by arrests.

These cases are sadly all too typical. The Dalai Lama, who is after all still the legitimate head of state of Tibet, is treated as a pariah to placate the aggressors. Nothing must upset the delicate sensibilities of the occupying power. The moral right is obvious, but we avoid talking about it to protect our access to the immense Chinese market.

It is not only governments who accommodate the Chinese desire for global spin control. Corporations are eager to get into that billion strong market, and will agree to Chinese demands without demur. Currently, Yahoo!, the internet search engine is under scrutiny for agreeing to censor it's content for China.

Yahoo! started with a reputation for promoting the anarchic freedom of information which characterized the early internet. Now it is part of a huge corporate structure and is agreeing to abide by the totalitarian "Public Pledge on Self-discipline for the Chinese Internet Industry" which requires them to block all links to web-sites containing ideas unfavourable to the Chinese authorities. It is a sure thing this will include all sites associated with the Tibetan government in exile.

This isn't the first time a media conglomerate complied with Chinese wishes to suppress information. When Disney released the powerful film "Kundun" a few years ago, it came under immense pressure from China. The movie, although it was released, was given very little promotion for such a big project and pulled from the theatres early.

China is presently launching yet another propaganda barrage to convince the world that Tibet is a happy and contented province of China. A handful of dissidents have been released, and some more or less tame journalists are being given carefully guided tours. We should look on such events with a careful eye. China wants to make a good impression on the world, but it hasn't substantially changed it's ways in Tibet. In another year and a half, the Dalai Lama is supposed to be making a visit to Canada. For whoever is in power here at the time, it will be opportunity to do the right thing.

[printer]Printer Friendly Version
(will open in new browser window)