Stanley's blog

I commend you to read the briefing on Tibet in today’s ‘The Economist’. The briefing has been written by James Miles, its Beijing correspondent, who happened to be there and was allowed to stay from 12 to 19 March.

Nowhere are European and Chinese misperceptions further apart than over the Dalai Lama and Tibet. It is in everyone’s interests that peace be restored and in no-one’s long term interests that the Olympic Games be seriously disrupted or boycotted. The world financial, economic and political situation is precarious enough without being exacerbated by destabilization in China.

Ascertaining the facts is very difficult indeed. How can you reconcile the Chinese view that the “Dalai Lama clique” organised the riots and the Dalai’s denial coupled with an accusation that the Chinese are carrying out “cultural genocide” ?

How very fortunate it is to have the benefit of a briefing from someone on the spot who belongs to what factually is the only English language periodical ‘of record’.

Author :


  1. ((Stanley:Right about James Miles and his coverage. See also the transcript of his CNN interview. Enclosed is my own modest input on this difficult issue.Best. David)

    Where Angels Might Fear to Tread

    It must be easier to be on the side of angels.

    Most of us believe in human rights, religious and ethnic rights and other elements of the international chartter of rights.

    But I don’t happen to believe in angels.

    The Dalai Lama is indeed said to be a holy man.

    He has also become elevated to and instrumentalised in the status of political figure, which is even harder to reconcile with an identity as an angel.

    Wen Jiabao, Nancy Pelosi or many of the other protagonists in the Tibetan drama are probably no angels either. They are all probably decent persons convinced they are going the right thing in this matter. They have taken sides in one of global history’s many political-religious conflicts, which to some unbelievers may appear more like the devil’s work in the past than a holy mission.

    All other decent persons are free to also take sides in this other international controversies. But they should consider doing so as fallible humans rather than holy crusaders.

    But instead, there appears to be a relentless international coalition of zealots who have answered a higher calling to liberate Tibet from the oppressive Chinese.

    I will pass, as do our well-meaning missionaries, on the other side of the argument which runs that Tibet was not a Shangri La except for the elite and brutal feudal class that ruled their population in serfdom until it was “liberated” by Mao Tse Tung. And that the Tibetan exiles, the Dalai Lama and their followers were fed, housed, armed, led, manipulated by the the CIA, Chiang Kai shek, the Indian government and many other well-intentioned donators.

    In various forms this is still the case, with many of the coalition in the West so besotted with ego-centric self-delusion they want to impose their so-called democratic way of life on others in a remote land half-way around the world that they can only identify in a romantic, idealised way and demonise the other side as the natural, unreconstituted heirs of Mao Tse Tung.

    Many not only have never accepted Tibetan enrollment in the Chinese system, they cannot accept the very concept of another system of governance.

    As they have in recent years, they are pursuing a single-minded mission of regime change. Since there is still no national Chinese election resembling our own hubris-driven popularity contests, just something like a billion Chinese trying to sort out their own corrupt local elites in another version of self-determination that is unpublicised in the West, our pro-Tibet anti-Chinese wave has assumed the only way is through a street revolution and global media competition.

    Regime change, either through military pre-emption, street revolution or other means has had such mixed, if not disastrous, results, they should also consider plausible consequences and follow-ups. Trawling through the policy and social wreckage in the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia, Ukraine, the new Middle East and other small states we have had the audacity to intervene in one overt or covert way in recent years should give all those who are well-intentioned pause for thought and prudence.

    But for many, the only logical outcome is a free Tibet as a first step to a democratic China. Do we have it all worked out, or is it destruction first, followed by an inescapable democratic paradise without planning, organising, educating, feeding, nursing, building and financing for a generation or so. Or will we rejoice again at the toppling of another regime, arrive to proclaim “mission accomplished” and return home to let those with nowhere else to got to pick up the pieces of the rubble. Surely the markets and the people, generally in that order, will take care of it the way it did in the Soviet Union, Iraq and elsewhere.

    Do we really want to give premature birth to another destitute, precarious mini-state. East Timor, or Palestine might even have a better chance of avoiding failed-state status than Tibet, although the verdict is also still out on those.

    Do we really want one-quarter of mankind plunged into chaotic flux or Soviet-style anarchic collapse? Would we feel more secure with our multinationals picking over the spoils of a Chinese crash, or without the trillions in Chinese foreign exchange reserves bailing us out or own economic fiascoes?

    Another possible scenario is that to push uncompromisingly on such an agenda, including Olympics, World Expo and other boycotts could trigger a reactive backlash in China and another cold war period of isolation, suspicion and hostility.

    Before setting out on another distant crusade, it might be judicious to seek advice from other Asian partners before assuming that they have no other option than to be with us or against us. The Asian reaction to the Tibetan events of 2008, other than in Taiwan which was a closely interested party, was more nuanced and prudent than in the West.

    We should therefore consider a more cautious, positive and longer-tem role with our Chinese and Tibetan partners. To our Chinese friends, we might be suggesting constructive advice that they mismanaged a certain challenge in Tibet in 2008 that sought to take advantage of international campaigns related to the Olympics and the Taiwan elections. It is certain to occur again in 2009, the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight and exile. Downstream, there are more effective means of crowd and crisis management at your disposal. But the best way to avoid conflict is much further upstream. Part of this could be a result-oriented negotiation that uses other tactics than the conviction that time is on your side and that no concessions are needed. The next generation of adversaries may have less patience and be potentially more radicalised to use other opportunities.The situation, as your leadership generally points out, is indeed a security threat. There exists an obvious social-ethnic problem in Tibet that can be exploited by one side or the other. It is your choice who will benefit.

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