I am posting this comment on China's Tibet issue (http://www.ellopos.com/blog/?p=247) here, although it does not seem to relate at first to the European Union, but it is relevant because it touches on a possible future European foreign policy.
It is not the first time that we read or hear news about demonstrations in favor a free Tibet. The reason usually invoked is the systematic Chinese destruction of Tibetan culture, or human rights abuse. While I do not a priori deny these, it is certainly moving too quickly to call for an independent Tibetan State.
I don't know if it is really appropriate to do it in this forum, but I would like to share two anecdotes that are necessary to understand my point. A Chinese friend of mine, from Hong Kong, once told me, in a way that seemed obvious to her, that Mongolia was an integral part of China, as it had always been in the past. The second anecdote is another friend of mine who lives in Nepal, a country bordering Tibet. Asking him his thoughts on the question, he replied quite interestingly--and not without provocation for the Western mind--that it had never been an issue for his country: it was an issue for the West, however, because China has a communist regime.
The first anecdote relates to how Chinese see their own history, and the second points at the grounds of this issue. Tibet had been, from the 17th to early 20th centuries, an integral part of the Qing Empire, that also included Mongolia. It is not my purpose to explain what relations Tibet and China had at the time, but it can briefly be summarized as "autonomy under Chinese jurisdiction." This worked well until the Emperor tried to impose direct rule over the province, and the following collapse of the monarchy and the chaos that reigned over the country for half a century virtually gave Tibet de facto independence. The (Han) Chinese are a people proud of their own history and culture. Whether they live in the communist Mainland or in the more Democratic self-governing territories (which are, we must recall, often at odds with the central government), Chinese are deeply united about their past, regardless of the regime. When the communist forces took power in 1949, they mixed communism with nationalism, and retaking the Tibetan province was seen as the return to the earlier situation, even if the earlier relationship had not been restored in parallel. It is necessary, I think, to understand the chinese hisorical-cultural background in order to judge correctly such important issues.
Those cannot be swept off under the carpet. Yet, it is precisely what we do when calling for independence. It is interesting to remark that those demonstrators arrested were all British, Canadians, or Americans, i.e. Westerners. And it is usually the case every time pro-Tibetan demonstrations are staged; it seems, at first sight, that only Westerners are concerned with Tibetan independence, or at least more than any others. While Nepal is a country bordering China, it has never really been concerned by this issue, nor have, it seems, any other Asian countries, such as Japan or India. It is a problem only for Westerners because they see the independence in Tibet as a victory against the Chinese regime. The problem is not with Tibet but with the Chinese regime. Is it a reason good enough to support independence?
Opponents to the Chinese point to the cultural degradation that occurs in the Tibetan province. It is certainly true, but in that case, are Europeans (and Americans) without reproach? On the same grounds, we might as well claim for the independence of the Basque country in Spain, of Northern Ireland, or even of the French island of New Caledonia, whose independentist rebellion ended in a bloodbath. Of course, Americans will also be challenged with the forced expulsions of Native Americans from their own land. But while we are demonstrating in favor of Tibet, who demonstrates to denounce the Turkish occupation of Cyprus, a European member? And who in the Western countries really cares to learn about the complex situation of Kosovo, rather than unilateraly support independence?
Europeans seem unable to solve problems within their own borders, yet they march to battle in far-away lands. Perhaps we should first sit down and judge a situation, and apply those solutions to ourselves, before taking up a fight which is not ours.
I was surprised to read this by you. “While I do not a priori deny these [i.e., the systematic Chinese destruction of Tibetan culture and the abuse of human rights]”..., you write. Are these matters available for a priori judgements? You don’t need to accept or deny them a priori. These things happen(ed) or not. If you don’t know, do not write your post until you know.
From the International Commission of Jurists report of June 5, 1959 (Cf. http://www.icj.org)
"We have collected documents, interviewed people and reliable witnesses from Tibet and studied the events as reported by the press and radio - including the Chinese press and radio. These materials have been turned over to the International Commission of Jurists. They have been examined and scrutinized. ...
"What is happening in Tibet is reminiscent of the conquest by some European countries and domination over Asian and African people on the plea of bringing progress in those lands, described by complacent persons as the "White man's burden". In a sense it reminds one of the brutal suppression in Hungary. Unfortunate Tibet is presented at the same time with forced progress and brutal suppression at the hands of the Chinese Government.
"It is not necessary to go very far into the historical background of Tibet beyond stating that from 1912 to 1950 Tibet was virtually an independent country. No Chinese writ ran in Tibet: there was no Chinese law, no Chinese judge, no Chinese policemen on the street corner; there was no Chinese newspaper, no Chinese soldier and even no representative of the Chinese government. ...
"On the 19th October 1950, Chamdo in Eastern Tibet was captured and on the 24th Peking announced that the forces had been ordered to advance into Tibet "to free three million Tibetans from imperialist oppression". ...
"In 1956, Mr. Chou En-lai assured Mr. Nehru that China did not consider Tibet as a province of China, but as an autonomous region. He also said that it was absurd for anyone to imagine that China was going to force Communism on Tibet, though reforms would come progressively. They proposed, however, to postpone the reforms for a considerable time. About that time the Dalai Lama was in India and Mr. Nehru conveyed these assurances to him. ...
"It is stated by Tibetan sources that soon after 1951 the first impact of Chinese control was felt in the feverish construction of roads and highways. The labour for this work was Tibetan men, women and children, laymen and monks, many of them forcibly drafted for the work. It is alleged that up to 200,000 were forced into these labour projects and about one-fourth of them are said to have died from the cold weather, hunger and fatigue. As one witness reported: "The financial and physical losses sustained by our people were great. By building the gigantic roads the economic loss sustained goes into thousands of acres of agricultural land, The Chinese destroyed agricultural lands, irrigation systems and ancient consolidated holdings by indiscriminately using the tracks in the name of highway priority. Numerous religious monuments, shrines, Mani walls and even houses of poor peasants that were in the path of the highway or road were destroyed". The systematic destruction of religious monuments and shrines for propagating 'Communism' will be dealt with later. The destruction of these and forcing the monks to forced labour shocked the Tibetans tremendously.
"There is no doubt that since 1952 there has been large-scale Chinese immigration into Tibet, particularly in the North-East and Eastern areas. According to reliable sources, about five million Chinese have already been settled in Tibet and some four million more are going to be settled. The present population of Tibet is estimated at 3,000,000 people. The Tibetans naturally feel that as a result of this vast settlement of Chinese in Tibet, a complete destruction of Tibetan identity will be brought about in the foreseeable future. The Chinese immigrants have been brought into Tibet ostensibly for the purpose of bringing wastelands under cultivation but actually the immigration was followed by large-scale confiscation of lands and buildings belonging to monasteries and private persons, by levies of special taxes on everything the Tibetan possessed -- and here the monasteries were discriminated against and subjected to exorbitant taxation -- and the depletion of decades-old granaries which, affected the most fundamental sensibilities of the Tibetans who regarded them as a religious-like symbol of pride and sign of prosperity.
"The efforts by the Chinese to destroy systematically private trade and, commerce will not be described in detail here but will be included in the final report. The destruction of religious freedom however requires mention. Through the Chinese press, which began firmly entrenched as the sole source of press information in Tibet, a precise and deliberate campaign has been conducted against the Buddhist religion and the lamas, and against Buddha himself. I would like to quote from a Chinese controlled newspaper published in the Tibetan language:
Karzey Daily, p. 2, dated 22 November 1958:
"To believe in religion is fruitless. Religion is the instrument of autocratic feudal lords and religion works home no benefits whatever to the people. To explain this we trace the historical background of the origin of the Buddhism. The founder of Buddhism was Sakya Muni, son of the King Sudodhana of India. His kingdom was very aggressive among all the Indian kingdoms of the time. It always used to invade the small kingdoms. It was during the reign of Sakya Muni, his subjects revolted against him and later other small kingdoms also rose against him spontaneously. As they attacked Sakya Muni he accepted the defeat but escaped amidst the fighting. Since there was no other way out for him he wandered into the forests. Having founded Buddhism he brought about a pessimism and idleness in the minds of the people, weakening their courage, and thus reached his goal of redomination over them. This fact is recorded in the history."
"Those who know of the life of Buddha will see the clear intent of the press campaign. Our information indicates that this attack on religion was combined with a systematic religious persecution. We have evidence of instances and cases where the heads of monasteries have been killed, imprisoned, publicly humiliated. One case in our files, for instance, refers to a very highly respected lama who was stripped, dragged with a rope over rocky terrain, as a result of which he died, his abdomen being ripped open by the dragging. In the Kham province alone 250 monasteries were destroyed; cases have been reported of head lamas being dragged to death by horses, and a fairly large number sent as prisoners to concentration camps in China. Of seven leading lamas charged with offences which fit into the general scheme of attack on religion, only one -- Zongsar Khentse Rimpoche -- escaped to India. The others have all been executed or are now in prison.
"From the beginning of the occupation in 1950, the process of indoctrination began. A number of front organizations for youths, women and workers were set up. Several thousand persons were sent to Peking for training in Communist ideology. ...
"On 12th March, 1959, a meeting was held at Shol - below the Potala Palace. Practically the whole population of Lhasa seem to have been present. At this meeting it was decided to prepare documents regarding the claim of independence. A letter was sent to Mr. Shakabpa, which never reached him, mentioning these facts and he was asked to announce to the world the facts of the Chinese oppression and the decision of the Tibetan people regarding independence. This meeting was almost in continuous session between 12th and the 17th of March and the people gathered entirely unarmed. After nightfall, two shells were fired on the Palace but fell in an artificial lake in front of the Palace. Machine guns and firing of arms were heard. At 10:30 p.m. and thereafter the Dalai Lama and some of his party, which arrived in India, left the Palace one by one.
"The shells were evidently fired by the Chinese as a warning in the hope of getting the Dalai to surrender, but nothing happened on the 18th. On the early morning of the 19th at 1 a.m. a serious bombardment of the Palace began. The Chinese were evidently not aware that the Dalai Lama had left 24 hours earlier. This bombardment completely destroyed the Palace and the city was also greatly damaged. The estimated loss of life is about 20,000 persons. I am informed that there were sufficient Chinese troops in Lhasa at the time who could have taken perhaps milder action, but the continuous bombardment was intended to strike terror among the people.
"Since in spite of the bombardment the Dalai Lama did not come out and surrender, the Chinese then suspected that the Dalai Lama had left and, as a result, numerous aereal search parties were sent. These planes, flying low, machine-gunned groups of people wherever seen. This was done indiscrimately in many places on the possible escape routes of the Dalai Lama in the hope that the groups so attacked might consist of the Dalai Lama's party.
"From the facts stated above the following conclusions may be drawn:
(a) From 1950 onwards as a result of Chinese aggression a practically independent country is being turned by force into a province of China and the struggle of the Tibetans has been to regain their independence.
(b) Even the terms of the 17 Point Agreement of 1951, guaranteeing broad autonomy to Tibet as mentioned above, have been consistently disregarded.
(c) There has been arbitrary confiscation of property belonging to monasteries, private individuals and Tibetan Government.
(d) Freedom of religion has been and is denied to the Tibetans. The Chinese authorities have been attempting to destroy the Buddhist religion of the Tibetans and their faith and also their monasteries, shrines and monuments. A large scale policy of Communist indoctrination and an abusive anti-religious propaganda have also been launched.
(e) The Tibetans have been denied freedom of information.
(f) There has also been a systematic policy of killing, imprisonment and deportation of those opposed to the regime. According to reliable sources the total number of persons so far fallen victims to the mass killing amounts to a colossal total of 65,000.
The above events establish that there has been a deliberate vio1ation of fundamental human rights. There is also a prima facie case that on the part of the Chinese there has been an attempt to destroy the national, ethical, racial and religious group of Tibetans as such by killing members of the group and by causing serious bodily and mental harm to members of the group. These acts constitute the crime of Genocide under the Genocide Convention of the United Nations of 1948.”
End of International Commission of Jurists report, June 5, 1959 (Cf. http://www.icj.org) ---------
You write that “it is certainly moving too quickly to call for an independent Tibetan State”. How can you know what is quick and what is not, since you didn’t learn what happened? People should suffer because a friend from Hong Kong told this and a friend from Nepal told that?
Then you write that since Tibet for 3 centuries was a part of China, perhaps it should remain for the rest of time, even in suffering. Russia was part of Mongolia for more centuries, and Greece of the Ottomans. Therefore, Russia and Greece should remain thus in eternity – especially if Nepal didn’t care, but only some ‘westerners’.
You say that is “certainly true”, that “cultural degradation occurs in the Tibetan province” (what is it that makes you certain now?), and although you admit this, instead of following the logical consequences, and admit also that it is not “certainly[!!!] moving too quickly to call for an independent Tibetan State”, instead of that, you turn the conversation to what Europeans and Americans do elsewhere. Thus, because they don’t demonstrate for Cyprus, they should not also demonstrate for Tibet. Instead of asking for both, you ask for none? Let also Tibet remain as it is, because Cyprus remains under the Turks?
Of course it would be better to start from ourselves, but any start for freedom is good. What is not good, is not thinking before writing. Forgive me if I've got a little angry; it is not only that I didn't expect this from you, but also because we are not speaking about a past time, exchanging knowledge and interpretations, but about a suffering that happens right now.
There are two distinct issues - whether the Chinese have treated the Tibetans badly, and whether Tibet is independent. Propagandists jump back and forth on these issues, arousing our ire and then suggesting conclusions one way or another about independence. (We westerners usually hear that Tibet is independent because the Chinese are so bad. But the Chinese version is that the Tibetan government oppressed and enslaved its people, whom the Chinese army then liberated.)
The International Commission of Jurists correctly faulted the Chinese for Human Rights violations in Tibet. (Indeed, things are worse than the ICJ said in its 1959 report. For, during the period of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s, the Chinese outdid themselves in brutal oppression.) On the independence issue, however, the ICJ - again correctly - takes a different tack. Tibet was, they conclude, independent de facto from 1920 to 1951, though it avoided during that period ever clearly asserting de jure independence. But in any case, this brief period of Tibetan independence, if some choose to call it that, came to an end in 1951 when the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army marched in, defeated the Tibetan army, and conquered the area. So the ICJ, reporting in 1959, completely avoided asserting that Tibet was or should be an independent country. (The ICJ was commenting on Tibetan issues from the standpoint of international law. And international law, while it establishes standards of human rights, also recognizes military conquest as a valid means of determining what is and is not an independent country.)
Chinese claims that Tibet always has been a part of China are ludicrous. They derive mostly from self-serving historical reports of personal subserviance among various rulers, interpreted in accord with Confucian notions. We in the West use entirely different ways of identifing nations. And, if we are to employ the Chinese ways, historical records can be construed to suggest entirely different conclusions - e.g., that China has been a part of Tibet since about 900 AD, that Korea is part of China. But these extreme claims are neither here nor there. Tibet has been a part of China since 1951. We can sympathize with the Tibetan people and join them in wishing their oppression might somehow end, perhaps somehow through self-government. But that doesn't mean they are or should be independent.
I don't understand how you reach this conclusion, since you know and admit that the "Chinese claims that Tibet always has been a part of China are ludicrous". Tibet should not be independent because since 1951 was subjugated to China?
I also don't understand why you underestimate Chinese brutality, when all depend there. If Chinese policy were different, maybe Tibetans would have no problem being united with China.
1. What I meant was: Tibet clearly has been a part of China since 1951 - this, even if it may remain debatable in some observers' opinions as to what Tibet's status might have been before then.
I enjoy making fun of silly claims by nationalists of the Far East about what was and wasn't part of what. The Koreans and Japanese, for example, regularly shout back and forth as to whether a tiny, worthless island rock in the middle of the ocean (Tok-do, in Korean; Takeshima in Japanese) has always belonged to one or the other of them; and the Koreans overlook the fact that if their arguments were correct, then Tok-do would always have been a part of China. The problem is that the concepts of nationhood that the Chinese, Tibetans and others are arguing about arose in the West in the 18th century or so, and were completely foreign to eastern politics during the time periods at issue. (For example, the Chinese until the 20th century did not maintain western-style diplomatic relations with anyone, reflecting their belief that no other country in the world was China's equal.)
2. You seem to be assuming some form of the self-determination theory of nationhood, where (as Jefferson has it) governments' just powers are derived from the consent of the governed. So if the Tibetans consented to Chinese rule, there wouldn't be any problem. There's a good deal of truth in this view. Surely, popular dissatisfaction makes it harder, practically, for governments to rule. But this doesn't seem to be the whole truth. There are plenty of examples in history where country A enjoyed its people's support, but nonetheless was conquered by country B. And the rhetoric of self-determination is in fact frequently used cynically by propagandists for purposes of whipping up the masses, inspiring them to sacrifice or die for this or that leader's purposes. International Law recognizes that a wide range of circumstances can validly define nations. So the ICJ's 1959 findings were not predicated on the self-determination ideas you apparently find so persuasive.