April 29, 2008
Two weeks in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou have left me breathless, with various thoughts racing around my mind seeking clarification. China is an extraordinarily complex country to try to begin to understand. “Everything you hear about China is true – as is the opposite.” A wise observation. Expect a number of posts on China in the coming days. This post only briefly mentions some of the thoughts:
China and Europe do not trust each other. Trust only comes through working together. Mutual understanding facilitates working together. Such understanding is seriously lacking and must be developed. Misperceptions abound – listening to Tibet and the Dalai Lama being discussed in Europe and China makes you wonder whether we are talking about the same subject.
The differences in the very construction of the Chinese and European languages make communication very difficult and sometimes a hostage to fortune. Language influences the way we think, not just the way we express ourselves. Interpretation is not just finding the equivalent words, because Chinese does not have words in our sense.
Too many Europeans still imagine the PRC to be a repressive, Communist dictatorship. The government (in particular provincial and local administrations) can indeed be authoritarian. The country is controlled by a single party still calling itself “Communist”. The media is strictly controlled but there are limits to the management of electronic media and, in particular, blogging (there are reputed to be 20 000 000 bloggers); and, above all, text messaging. The government is encouraging NGOs (“with Chinese characteristics”): thus at an environmental conference last week in Beijing, NGOs were being pressed to be more active in reporting breaches of regulation
The PRC has no modern communications policy. It’s Ministry of Information behaves as if the country were still in the Communist era. There is no Chinese lobby in Europe to match the Tibetan and Taiwanese lobbies.
The current tensions between China and Europe over Tibet are unlikely to last much beyond the Olympic Games, when another major news story will replace it. When were the media last interested in Tibet? However, there are two potentially worrying, lasting effects. First, young Chinese, who look to Europe for values, freedom and a way of life to which in many respects they aspire, feel bitterly let down over the biased and inaccurate way in which Tibet has been reported, the disruption of the torch processions and the attempts to spoil the Games and our hypocrisy. Second, the burning and looting of Han Chinese shops on 14-15 March, with inevitably Han Chinese deaths, will exacerbate the already tense relationship between the two ethnic groups.
Territorial integrity is critically important to China. The behaviour of Beijing must be understood against the huge and ongoing challenge of keeping together this vast country of nearly 10m sq kms, over 1.3 b people, 23 provinces, five autonomous regions and four municipalities, and 56 ethnic groups.
Whatever the People’s Liberation Army has done on Tibet, the region was not a Shangri-la when ruled by the present Dalai Lama. It was a feudal serfdom ruled over by a small minority of nobles and lamas. Unfortunately, because foreign journalists have always been almost entirely excluded from visiting Tibet, we have no reliable source of information. While we appear to make little attempt to take a balance view, the Chinese have brought this misinformation upon themselves.
EU Member States have shown no leadership over Tibet and have not seriously tried to speak with one voice. President Barroso and the Commission have been clear and consistent and this must have been an important factor in the success of the 10 Commissioner visit to Beijing last week.Author : Stanley Crossick