Connect with us

East Asia

The violently peaceful struggle for Tibet

Dr. Andrea Galli

Published

on

Prayers in front of the Jokhang temple

Many years later, as he faced how the Dalai Lama became a political inconvenience for an increasing number of world leaders, the former emissary of the Dalai Lama, Gelek Rinpoche was to remember those distant afternoons when the poet Allen Ginsberg, the composer Philip Glass, the author Robert Thurman and the actor Richard Gere jointly planned fully-booked glamorous events for his Buddhist Jewel Heart organizations based in Ann Arbor, Chicago, and New York. At that time, the end of the Cold War was so recent that many notions lacked names, and in order to describe them, it was necessary to invent.

The belief of the Dalai Lama as a “man of peace” was pragmatically shared by all Western politicians, media and left-thinking intellectuals who depicted the people of Tibet as by nature honest, gentle and kind. This belief helped spread the perception of Tibetan culture as a compassionate and non-violent one, and of Tibet as a civilization where, under the Lamas, peace and happiness prevailed and that this condition of happiness could be taken up worldwide.

Just a few years before the end of the Cold War, the film Seven Years in Tibet featuring Brad Pitt posited that Tibetans revere life so much that they refuse to kill even worms and that the “Chinese are brutal; the Tibetans are gentle.” The Tibet activist and actor Richard Gere spoke of “Beijing’s savage oppression of the gentle Tibetan people.” Western media referred to the Dalai Lama as an apostle of world peace and happiness, and the idea that the Tibetan people are naturally peaceful became an obvious truth for all.

The rhetoric of the (cultural) genocide

In 2001, a few days before the International Olympic Committee met in Moscow to award the 2008 Games to Beijing, Gelek Rinpoche, acting as the Dalai Lama’s envoy for the occasion, approached the General Director of the International Olympic Committee and confident in the Tibetan struggle narrative that had gained good traction by then, demanded that the Games should be denied because “China has been executing a policy in Tibet of ethnic and cultural genocide against the Tibetan people, and intended to erase the Tibetan people from the face of the Earth.”

In 1959 after Gelek Rinpoche accompanied the Dalai Lama in his flight to India, both thought that in the near future China would totally exterminate the Tibetan race. In reports from 1959 and 1960, the CIA-funded International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) claimed that China was committing genocide in Tibet by eradicating the Tibetans through restrictions on religion that were destroying their way of life. A few years later the Dalai Lama mitigated his certitudes and admitted that China’s aim was not physical annihilation, but assimilation and subordination, stating that China “seems to attempt the extermination of religion and culture and even the absorption of the Tibetan race.”

Today it is historically irrefutable that there were substantial causalities in Tibet due to the vicious actions of Mao-era China, as there were throughout the country. However, there has never been credible evidence showing that physical genocide has been perpetrated in Tibet aiming at the extermination of Tibetans. Claims that a fifth of the Tibetan population was annihilated from 1959 to 1979 through executions, famines, imprisonment, and other means are without any evidentiary roots. Mao was at war with an ideology, not the nation of Tibetan people alone. Absent the nexus to physical genocide, a claim of cultural genocide becomes no more than a rhetorical construct, a conjecture in need of a name that would become the foundation justification for the Tibetan struggle.

The notion of cultural genocide in Tibet resonated in the West because it is a largely unexamined concept. Even where the phrase itself is not used, Western media reflexively alluded to the idea. For example, in late 2017, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, headed by Senator Marco Rubio, invited the actor Richard Gere as “someone who is knowledgeable about the political situation in Tibet” to testify before the committee. In his testimony, the actor stated that “under Chinese rule, the Tibetan language and culture have been suppressed”. In reality, the education system in Tibet has been tailored to the cultural specificities of Tibetans by developing primary level schooling in the Tibetan language and secondary level schooling on a bilingual basis, adding Chinese languages and supplementary English lessons to the curriculum. Gere’s assumed expertise in Tibetan matters has never been called in question because it fitted a definite agenda.

Others have posited that cultural genocide does not only mean killing, it also means limiting births among Tibetans. A lawyer who headed the US-based Tibet Justice Centre advanced such allegations, and the Dalai Lama stated that China is “forcing strict family planning rules on my people” in order “to make us a minority in our own land.” The fact is, family planning and the “one child” policy, however, even where coercive, were part of China’s policy over the entire Chinese territory for decades, and not just imposed on Tibet.

Some Tibetan leaders in exile and Western NGOs claimed that “Tibetans are not even permitted to undertake routine religious activities”. They asserted that 6,000 monasteries were destroyed before or during the Mao’s Cultural Revolution and that “the handful of surviving monasteries are being used as public toilets and barracks while monks and nuns in Tibet have been forced by the Chinese to defecate on religious objects”. Such claims are anachronisms designed to imply that a second Maoist Cultural Revolution is ongoing in Tibet. Yet mass participation in routine religious activities is evident to even sceptical observers and the occasional tourist.

Western journalists reported that in Tibet many hundreds of Tibetans prostrate themselves at temples daily, while US human rights officials visiting Lhasa saw pilgrims crowded in front of the Jokhang, one of Tibet’s most important temples, to perform ritual worship. They do not challenge China’s claims that every year more than one million people visit the Jokhang. As for the major monasteries on the Tibetan plateau, Western reporters have noted that the there are now 300 more lamaseries and temples in the Tibet than existed in the region before 1951. Again, such figures are not disputed.

Chinese state efforts to preserve Tibetan cultural accomplishments and popularize Tibetan culture by creating venues for its development are ignored in Western discourse because such efforts conflict with the idea of cultural genocide in Tibet. Rather, exile Tibet leaders and Western NGOs reject performing arts in Tibet as inauthentic and have stated that “in this calculated cultural genocide the Chinese make every effort to remove any vestige of Tibetan character in the performing arts.”

Even artists educated in contemporary Tibet who emigrate to India, such as Gongkar Gyatso, are spurned as polluted. Exiled Tibetan authorities are unhappy that the main trend in Tibetan art, in or out of Tibet, has been modernistic. They consider religious scroll painting to be the only authentic Tibetan style, and disapprove all other painting styles produced by ethnic Tibetans as being corrupted by Chinese influences. The reference to the arts and cultural genocide is a classic nationalist juxtaposition of the inauthentic in “occupied Tibet” to the “pure” preserved culture of the exiles and allied Western-based NGOs. One exponent of those NGOs is the New York-based Tibet House, founded in 1987 by Robert Thurman (father of actress Uma Thurman), actor Richard Gere and composer Philip Glass (among others). Ironically, in the fields of literature, architecture, art, film, and music alike, Chinese intellectuals and artists have been turning more and more frequently to Tibet as a source of inspiration.

Lhasa, like many large cities around the world, has abundant outlets for prostitution, gambling, and drugs. Exiled Tibet leaders and Western NGOs try to attribute such “vices” found in Tibet’s cities to cultural corrosion due to the Chinese presence. The Washington based International Campaign for Tibet, represented by its main public exponent, the actor Richard Gere, has stated: “We are concerned that more and more young Tibetans are being tempted by the very worst aspects of Chinese culture.” However, none of the “vices” complained of are specifically Chinese, and might equally be attributed to the influence of “the West”. While exiled Tibetan leaders and Western NGOs object to the cultural impact of the Han-Chinese in Tibet, they are usually much less concerned about the Western influence on traditional Tibetan culture.

Even the late Elliot Sperling, an expert on Tibet and passionate supporter of the exiled Tibetan cause, observed that “within certain limits China does make efforts to accommodate Tibetan cultural expression” and “the cultural activity taking place all over the Tibetan plateau cannot be ignored.” Other supporters of the exiled Tibetan cause, including Tibet scholar Professor Robert Barnett and German Green Party leader Antje Vollmer, also recognized the inaccuracy of the cultural genocide claim.

It has been said that the notion of genocide is marked by conceptual confusion, often compounded by its rhetorical and populist use on the part of those seeking to inflame and stigmatise social and political discourse. It is equally common for nationalists to deploy a charge of cultural genocide against changes they oppose in traditional lifestyles. The Dalai Lama often states that he is concerned most of all about the preservation of culture. His main international alliance, however, is with politicians in the US, a country whose hegemony plays a major strategic role in eroding traditional cultures, including in Europe, China and Tibet.

The unanimity on pacifism

But let’s go back to the few crucial days before the International Olympic Committee met in Moscow in 2001 to award the 2008 Games to Beijing. Gelek Rinpoche approached the General Director of the International Olympic Committee as envoy of the Dalai Lama, and claimed that there “has not been one single terrorist incident in all the 50 years of the Tibetan struggle for independence”. The dogmatic stance on non-violence was always effective in obfuscating memories and attracting consent. Yet Gelek Rinpoche must have remembered the bombings in Lhasa, the large-scale armed revolts, the guerrilla warfare, the large quantity of weaponry airdropped by the CIA, the gangs of rioters that burned dozens of policemen and killed hundred of civilians, the hate campaigns demonizing opponents of the Tibetan government in exile, seen as antagonistic to the authority of the Dalai Lama, the oppressive measures against the Dorje Shugden religious practice banned and considered heretic by the Dalai Lama, the related series of dynamite blasts in the Tibetan Dartsedo and Lithang counties driven by hatred of Dorje Shugden practitioners, the endorsements of terrorism by the largest Tibetan exile organization, the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) and its extreme nationalist slogans, like “no Chinese in Tibet is innocent”… while the Dalai Lama encouraged others to use such expressions to make himself look more conciliatory in comparison.

In fact, exile leaders have only in the last few decades claimed that nonviolence is essential to Tibetan culture and underlies Tibetan strategy. While the Dalai Lama gives a speech every March 10 to mark the 1959 Lhasa uprising, his first mention of nonviolence in that speech only came in 1988. And it was only in 1996 that the Tibet Parliament in Exile adopted nonviolence as a fundamental principle of the Tibetan Government in Exile.

The Dalai Lama at a public event in Europe

Over the years, the Dalai Lama propagated its “middle way” approach of Tibet as an autonomous region inside China, with the use of such terms as “peace” and “non-violence”, affecting compassion and benevolence in order to gain international empathy and support. Looking beyond the conciliatory words and charismatic smile, however, it is not difficult to find evidence that the exiled Tibetan leadership has been willing to both threaten and resort to violence, and to carry out violence under the guise of non-violence. In truth they have never abandoned their ultimate goal of “Tibetan independence”. This undisclosed intent is explicitly reflected in all known Western-based NGOs advocating for human rights in Tibet which openly proclaim “Tibet Independence” (or “Free Tibet” or in the Tibetan language “Rangzen”) as their ultimate objective.

The image of a pacifist Dalai Lama facing a belligerent China has obstructed any settlement of the Tibet question. It has reinforced the idea that a “Free Tibet” can only be possible if China disintegrates. It has allowed Western elites to demand that because the Dalai Lama is perceived as a “man of peace” China has to negotiate with him unconditionally, which it would not do unless he first accepted Tibet as an inalienable and legitimate part of China. Because he refused to do so, the Chinese government linked him to hostile Western forces who seek China’s dismantling.

However, in recent years, the massive economic power China has become has made the Dalai Lama a political danger for an increasing number of world leaders and nations, who now shy away from him for fear of inciting China’s ire or endangering economic relations with China. Even Pope Francis, considered an audacious religious leader, reportedly declined a meeting in Rome with the Dalai Lama. And President Donald Trump, who might be expected to endorse the decades-long US efforts to destabilize China and to back US-based NGOs active in propaganda campaigns for human rights in Tibet, suggested that financially supporting the “Free Tibet” cause is a “waste of money”. Of late, even the Indian authorities hosting the Tibetan leadership and the Dalai Lama have cancelled important commemoratory events with him.

In reality, the Dalai Lama’s persona impedes a compromise for as long as the discourse prevents differentiation between his religious and political roles and the narrative remains a binary one which idolises him as peaceful and demonizes China as the brutal perpetrator of a cultural genocide in Tibet. China has over the last three decades relaxed draconian and cruel Mao-era rules, by opening the door to private sector capitalism. With its adoption of capitalistic mechanisms, China has accumulated immense financial assets which are today vital to the nourishment of the worldwide economy, particularly in Western countries that have accumulated huge debts.

Also over the last three decades, China has relaxed the draconian Mao-era rules on religion by allowing individuals to practice a religion of their choice. There are now significantly more adherents of Buddhism than members of the Communist Party – there are 90 million members of Communist Party of China, compared to some 250 million Buddhists and 200,000 registered Buddhist monks. Additionally, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, is constantly moderating his attitude to Tibet and Buddhism, among other reasons because his wife is profoundly Buddhist.

The reverence for (non)-violence

When in 2001, Gelek Rinpoche approached the International Olympic Committee to protest against the 2008 Olympic Games being awarded to Beijing, he must have remembered the distant years before the Chinese invasion in 1951, when the Tibet was ruled by aristocrats, clerics, and manor owners and had a brutal social hierarchy and a system of serfdom similar to pre-feudal times; he must have remembered the distant year of 1959 when the Dalai Lama and two of his brothers enrolled by the CIA, along with other clerics and aristocrats, launched a large-scale armed revolt against officials stationed in Tibet and massacred local Tibetans who supported Chinese communism. The Dalai Lama was not only well-informed of the action but gave it his active blessing. Years later he wrote in his book My Spiritual Autobiography: “Every one of them is armed to the teeth, and even my personal cook is carrying a bazooka, with his waist belt full of ammunition. He has been well trained by the CIA…”

After the Dalai Lama fled to India, escorted by his entourage of clerics and aristocrats, he reorganized an army and waited to fight his way back to Tibet. In 1960 in Mustang, a county in northern Nepal, he rebuilt an anti-Chinese guerrilla force. In 1962, with support from external powers, he built a Special Frontier Force composed of mainly Tibetan exiles, most of them from aristocrat families. From 1961 to 1965, these forces sneaked across the border 204 times to harass Chinese border troops and Tibetan civilians. According to disclosed US archives, the Dalai Lama first established contact with the US government in 1951. During the armed rebellion in Tibet, the CIA not only sent agents to help the Dalai Lama and his entourage of clerics and aristocrats to flee but also purposefully trained militants to support his forces and airdropped a large quantity of weaponry.

On September 21, 1987, the Dalai Lama made a speech to the US Congress, calling for Tibetan independence. On September 27, in the square of the Jokhang Temple, a group of lamas shouted separatist slogans, attacked police, and injured many civilians. On October 1, a small gang of rioters raided the police station on Barkhor Street in Lhasa and burned seven cars, leaving dozens of policemen injured. The rioters proclaimed that the Dalai Lama was fighting for Tibetan independence. They demanded the support of spectators and the general public and threatened personal retaliation against those who failed to join them. On March 5, 1988, during the Monlam Prayer Festival, a gang of rioters stormed into local Party and government offices and police stations around Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Street, smashing and burning cars and shops, leading to 299 police and civilian casualties. From March 5 to 7, 1989, Lhasa witnessed another riot in which one policeman was shot dead, 40 others were injured, and 107 shops, 24 government offices, primary schools and neighbourhood committees were destroyed. On March 11, 1992, nine Tibetan separatists attacked the Chinese embassy in India with firebombs.

The (non)-violence around the Olympic Games 2008 in Beijing

“The Olympic Games in 2008 in Beijing will be a symbol of peace, friendship, and progress, which is welcomed and cherished by all peoples” commented the International Olympic Committee in 2001, during the ceremony awarding the 2008 Games to Beijing.

In May 2007, the Tibetan independence movement, including exiled Tibetan leaders and Western NGOs supporting them, held a meeting in Brussels and agreed on a strategic plan to launch a campaign to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Later, two NGOs in the US (International Campaign for Tibet and Students for a Free Tibet) and two in India (the Tibetan Youth Congress and the Tibetan Women’s Association) advocating for human rights in Tibet put forward a proposal for an uprising in Tibet, believing the 2008 Olympic Games was the last chance to achieve Tibetan independence. They decided to take advantage of this occasion while China was the spotlight of international attention before the start of the Olympic Games.

On January 4 and January 25, 2008, Tibetan independence activists held press conferences in New Delhi, releasing proposals for this uprising, spreading the news on more than 100 websites, and encouraging the instigation of constant large-scale uprisings for March 10, 2008, the date corresponding to the anniversary of the uprising in 1959. On March 10, the Dalai Lama made a speech, urging his followers within Chinese territory to engage in violence. On the same day, the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) made a statement, claiming that it would “now seize a most important opportunity never before seen in our struggle for independence – the upcoming Olympic Games,” and that it would “spare neither blood nor life for Tibetan independence.”

Uprisings took place in Tibet four days later than planned, on March 14, 2008. That day, a mob converged in the downtown area of Lhasa, assaulting innocent bystanders with weapons including rocks, daggers, and clubs, smashing and looting vehicles, shops, banks, the Telecom business offices, and government properties, severely disrupting social order, and causing heavy losses of life and property. During the violent incidents, there were over 300 cases of arson, while 908 shops, seven schools, 120 houses, and five hospitals were severely damaged. Ten bank branches were looted, at least 20 buildings were burnt to the ground, and 84 vehicles were torched. Most seriously, a total of 18 people were burned or hacked to death, and 382 people were injured – 58 of them seriously.

After these incidents, the Dalai Lama himself released a declaration through his personal secretariat, describing the riots as “peaceful protests.” On March 16, he said in an interview with BBC that he would not ask the rioters to stop because their demands came from the Tibetan people, and he had to respect their will. In the meantime, the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), passed a resolution to “immediately organize guerrillas to infiltrate China for armed struggle.” The head of the TYC claimed that they were ready to sacrifice another 100 Tibetans to reach complete victory.

Western NGOs advocating for human rights in Tibet, and in particular activists from “Students for a Free Tibet” engaged in a series of sabotage activities directed at the Beijing Olympic Games. They interfered with important ceremonies, including disrupting the torch-lighting ceremony in Greece, and attempting to grab the Olympic torch during the torch relay in various countries, provoking a strong reaction from the international community and a pandemonium at the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, as its General Director, Urs Lacotte, revealed during a lunch at the edge of Lake Geneva, explaining how the Committee did not foresee such an organized outbreak.

The main claims of the activists were: China continues its crackdowns on freedom of religion in Tibet; China is using the Olympics to misrepresent the unique culture of Tibet as Chinese, as it has chosen an endangered Tibetan animal, the Tibetan antelope, as one of its Olympic mascots; China has failed to follow the call of the International Campaign for Tibet to end human rights abuses in Tibet and negotiate a peace agreement with Tibet’s exiled leader, the Dalai Lama…

The self-immolation marathon after the Olympic Games 2008

After the Western media coverage of riots in Tibet in 2008, in which the Dalai Lama was identified as a peacemaker to whom China refused to talk, the proportion of journalists who saw China as the world’s biggest threat doubled. Time magazine named the Dalai Lama the most influential person in the world and the Western general public saw the Dalai Lama as the most respected world leader. The notion he is a pacifist was so pervasive that it circulated from the West to China for some months.

Following some success in drawing media attention during the Beijing Olympic Games incidents, the exiled Tibetan leadership began to encourage Tibetan lamas and lay followers inside China and India to engage in acts of self-immolation, leading to a series of such incidents in a number of regions. This ongoing campaign started in 2009 but had its roots in a few isolated cases that began around 1998 outside Tibet.

The US-based NGOs stated that self-immolation acts by Tibetans were an assertion of the Tibetan identity in the face of “cultural genocide”. This proclamation, however, disregarded the fact that suicide is forbidden in Buddhism. The campaign was heavily exploited around the world and praised by NGOs advocating for human rights in Tibet, but also by NATO-backed think tanks. These included Freedom House, whose specific role is to monitor freedom of the press around the world and which ranked Tibet as the worst possible place, saying self-immolations were the result of a lack of freedom. However, the most extreme illustration of the alliance of the US government in the self-immolation campaign can be seen in the documents of The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (www.cecc.gov). This body promotes the self-immolation strategy aimed at achieving “Tibetan freedom” and the Dalai Lama’s return in Tibet, and sees the collapse of China as an implicit goal.

In some cases acts of self-immolation were exploited to support fundraising activities, particularly in the US, and to obtain governmental subsidies for NGOs or the exiled Tibetan leadership, with wide support from cultural exponents like Hollywood actors and famous musicians, whose numbers had boomed since those distant afternoons when the poet Allen Ginsberg, the composer Philip Glass, the author Robert Thurman and the actor Richard Gere first laid their plans to drum up support for US-based Buddhist organizations.

US-based NGO banner praising self-immolation in Tibet

On May 29, 2012, at a TYC candlelight rally to glorify Tibetans who had set themselves alight, the leader of the rally claimed, “Tibetan independence will neither fall from the sky nor grow from the earth; rather it relies on our efforts and action and needs sacrifice.” From September 25 to 28, 2012, the exiled Tibetan leadership convened the Second Special Meeting of Tibetans in Exile, proclaiming self-immolation as the highest form of non-violence, hailing its victims as “national heroes,” building memorials and raising special funds for them. They still vigorously preach that “self-immolation does not go against Buddhist doctrine” and that “self-immolation is martyrdom and a Bodhisattva deed,” duping Buddhist believers in Tibet, and particularly innocent young people, and setting them on an incendiary path to ruin. The unavoidable consequence was a rapid increase in self-immolations. In addition, the TYC issued the Martyr Award in 2013 to Monks of the Kirti Monastery who self-immolated and in 2016 to self-immolators in Tibet and in exile who sacrificed their lives.

Investigations by China’s public security organs into incidents of self-immolation clearly revealed that these protesters were being manipulated and instigated by the highest levels of the exiled Tibetan leadership. Kirti Monastery in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture is where the greatest number of self-immolation incidents took place; it has been proved that those promoting these incidents have close links with the Tibetan exile leadership.

The investigation of the security organs revealed that the Tibetan exile leadership has four ways of instigating self-immolation: first, planning incidents from abroad through a so-called “press liaison group” based in the Kirti Monastery in Sichuan and the Kirti Monastery in India; second, sending TYC members into Tibet to incite self-immolation; third, mobilizing activists returning from overseas to assist in self-immolation; and fourth, using the Internet and NGOs’ social media reach to hype up self-immolation.

The exiled Tibetan leadership has allegedly released a Self-immolation Guide on the Internet – an instruction manual to incite and instruct Tibetans residing within China to burn themselves. The author of this manual is Chabdak Lhamo Kyab, who served for two terms as a member of the Tibetan government in exile, known now as the Central Tibetan Government (CTA) and was the head of a clandestine resistance movement and also a public relations counsellor of the Dalai Lama. He now resides in France.

The Self-immolation Guide is a book consisting of four parts: the first part advocates the idea that self-immolators are great, honourable and intrepid heroes and that both these male and female heroes should always be prepared to sacrifice themselves for a just cause. The second part gives detailed instructions on preparations for self-immolation, including picking important days and places, leaving written or recorded last words, and asking trustworthy friends to help record videos or take photos. The third part introduces self-immolation slogans, instructing victims to always shout the same slogans. And the fourth part illustrates other activities that might accompany self-immolation. The book also contains the timeline of protests since 2009; the life stories of the protesters; the international community’s support for the movement; and the exiled Tibetan leadership’s efforts to gain global support. “The book”, said one source of the leadership “has nothing to do with encouraging self-immolation”. At present, the existence of the book has been officially denied by the exiled Tibetan leadership.

Performing self-immolation in public is itself an act of violence, intended to create an atmosphere of terror and of horror. On this issue of principle, the Dalai Lama played an important role. For example, on November 8, 2011, when a new series of self-immolations had just begun, he said in an interview that the point was that self-immolation demanded courage and that “cultural genocide” was the reason behind these “courageous acts”. He thereby both showed his appreciation for and approval of self-immolators and promoted his rhetoric of cultural genocide.

On January 3, 2012, he defended self-immolation on the basis that it was superficially an act of violence, but what differentiated violence and non-violence was the motives and aims behind each act, and only an act driven by hatred and anger could be defined as violence. It was clear that he regarded self-immolation as non-violent protest. On October 8, 2012, he said in an interview that he was sure that self-immolators were sacrificing themselves with a sincere motivation and for the benefit of Buddhism and the well-being of Tibetans, and that, from the Buddhist point of view, it was a positive act. Through these words, he has repeatedly and explicitly offered his approval of and praise for self-immolation. He has also hosted a dharma assembly, in his capacity as a religious leader, to expiate the sins of the dead, chant scriptures and pray for them, a promise which turns out to be very persuasive to believers in Tibetan Buddhism. Only recently has the Dalai Lama revised his views on the effectiveness of self-immolation.

Since the Olympic Games of 2008, over 150 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest, including 41 monks and eight nuns. Only very few of Tibet’s Buddhist clerics or exponents of the human rights community have dared to speak out in Western countries against glorifying, praising or promoting acts of self-immolation for political gain. Also among exile Tibetans, any advocacy against self-immolation is considered incompatible with the agenda of the Tibetan government in exile, and very few would dare provoke the rage of the Dalai Lama for fear of reprisal. Recently, personalities that dared to speak out against the campaign of self-immolation were systematically attacked on social media in what appeared to be a coordinated slander campaign, organized through anonymous accounts. One luminary who did speak out was Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, the spiritual leader of the Malaysian based Buddhist organisation Kechara, who publicly and forcefully opposed the campaign of self-immolation, particularly after a succession of incidents prior the vote of the US budget bill 2018, which included grants to the exiled Tibetan leaders that were in danger of being rejected by Congress. He was severely punished on the social media for his call for non-violence and was tagged a ‘Chinese spy’ because he upheld a core Buddhist teaching of non-violence.

The fading unity for the Tibetan cause on the path to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing

These violent initiatives succeeded in gaining world media focus on the Tibetan issue but ultimately failed to change the equation with China and tilt the balance in favour of the Dalai Lama’s government in exile. As questions of the Tibetan leadership’s adequacy became louder over the years, the Dalai Lama and exile leaders have constantly stoked the flames of division between Tibetans, sowing discord and inciting  inter-religious animosity and divisions. Part of the motivation it was to distract Tibetan refugees from the reality that their exiled Tibetan leaders were unable, after 60 years, to offer a realistic prospective for their return to Tibet, or at least formulate a plan for their integration into Indian society.

Since the failure of the attempted rebellions in 1959 and 2008, a series of particularly divisive issues for the Buddhist community, both within Tibet and abroad have been introduced by the Tibetan leadership. The Karmapa controversy was one where the Dalai Lama created conditions for rivalry to beset the Karma Kagyu sect, the second largest school of Buddhism which prevails until this day. As for the largest Tibetan Buddhism school, the Gelug, enmity was introduced by outlawing the worship of one of the sect’s most popular deity, Dorje Shugden, a nearly 400-year old practice that began in the 17th century and has become a major practice in Tibetan Buddhism. The Dorje Shugden de facto ban has already existed for two decades since it was initiated by the Dalai Lama and has slowly stirred disunity in Tibet and among the exiled Tibetan communities, leading the Chinese government to consider the Dorje Shugden conflict an important front for undermining what it says are efforts promoted by the Dalai Lama aimed at destabilizing China.

This religious hostility has been fed by considerable propaganda and counterpropaganda efforts during the last two decades and it is still an ongoing battle. It has been continuously observed that Dorje Shugden followers, monks, and monasteries in Tibet and abroad are used as scapegoat and portrayed as heretic, demonic and sectarian, and are branded as Chinese Communist Party supporters or Chinese spies by most NGOs advocating in western countries for the exiled Tibetan leadership’s goals. In historical terms, the situation and implications may call to mind Martin Luther’s reformation of Christianity centuries ago.

Most nations acknowledge Tibet as a part of China, while none formally recognizes the exiled Tibetan leadership, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) – yet a number of them sustain the cause of the exiles in other ways. Because of the need for Western support of the exiled government and the significant role played by externally-based NGOs supporting Tibetan independence, democratizing elements have been added to self-governance in exile, and the vocabulary of human rights, development, environmental protection, and so forth has been deployed by the CTA and supported by Western NGOs. In reality, spirituality and aristocracy are linked through Tibet’s traditional system of theocratic government, in which politics and religion were tightly knit. Many exiled government officials continue to promote this system as ideal for Tibet, including the present prime minister of the CTA, Dr. Lobsang Sangay, who recently reaffirmed the urgency of strengthening efforts to facilitate the return of the Dalai Lama to his native land and his former residence in Lhasa, the Potala palace.

However, the repeated requests of many exile leaders to pass orders banning critical voices from any Tibet-related events, accusing such voices to be Chinese spies and/or Dorje Shugden heretics, stand in stark contradiction to democratic principles. Critical voices expose, for example, claims of corruption inside the CTA; some complain that instead of focusing on practical efforts to improve the everyday lives of Tibetan refugees in India, the CTA has often preferred political point-scoring against China; others still have expressed criticism of the Dalai Lama or of the CTA’s theocratic orientation.

The US President’s attitude reflects the waning support for the Tibetan cause and a change in perception of the Dalai Lama’s role as peacemaker. The cause has suffered a gradual dissipation of international goodwill, particularly among the CTA’s immediate neighbours and Indian hosts. Countries such as India, Mongolia, and Nepal have traditionally tolerated the activities of the exile leaders and the Dalai Lama, and by doing so risked annoying China, the region’s most powerful nation.

“The Winter Olympic Games in 2022 in Beijing will be a symbol of peace, friendship and prosperity, which is welcomed and cherished by all peoples” comments the International Olympic Committee, recognizing its world-class venue legacy from the 2008 Olympic Summer Games. In the last years, the Dalai Lama has embodied an intensified sentiment of political embarrassment among world leaders who seek stable political and profitable economic alliances with China. Beijing 2022 will form part of the future narrative of Tibet and it will be interesting to see if the support for the Dalai Lama will completely evaporate into the clouds of nostalgia for the poems of Allen Ginsberg, the music of Philip Glass, the books of Robert Thurman or the movies of Richard Gere.

Political leaders often conquer international stature by conducting war, but the personas of only a few men of peace – such as Gandhi, King, and Mandela – are prominent. The Dalai Lama’s “apostle of nonviolence” persona was built at the end of the Cold War, alongside a campaign to internationalize the Tibet struggle by fostering protests in Tibet, mobilizing Western converts to Tibetan Buddhism, and exploiting the Dalai Lama’s capacity to engage Western political and media elites. Boosted by his 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, US excoriations of China and the expectation of its collapse after the Cold War, the Dalai Lama became an international symbol of peace. He successfully combined his divine significance with his political struggle in exile under a veil of non-violence, compassion and selflessness. After decades of internationalization as he reaches the last lines of the book of his life, synonyms of the Dalai Lama as peacemaker are still discursive givens. Only time will tell whether he will be immortalized on the celestial Olympus with Gandhi, King, and Mandela or exiled from the collective memory of mankind.

Continue Reading
Comments

East Asia

China post-covid situation

Published

on

As the first country to be engulfed in the COVID-19 pandemic, China is several weeks ahead of many other countries on the “curve” of the virus progression. As such, the changing situation in China is being monitored closely by many other countries. While statistical methods of counting infections and deaths have differed across countries, it is generally agreed that China has the pandemic largely under control at the current stage, with increases in new cases rising at a rate of less than 100 per day (although there was a spike to 108 on Sunday, April 12). Of course there is some concern that asymptomatic cases are not being identified effectively, but the fact that the number of new symptomatic cases is low (therefore the hospitals are not overwhelmed) is acting as a kind of proxy to provide confidence to the wider population that the situation has improved dramatically.

Indeed, in China, the public mood moved on from one of fear to one of caution around late February. Since then, while many restrictions remain in place around the country, caution has morphed into mere habit. Having worn a facemask every day for close to three months now, I feel slightly naked in public without one. People are adjusting to the “new normal” and seem to realize that there is a long battle ahead. While they realize it is going to be tough, there is a general sense among the population that China will be able to manage the adaptation process more effectively than most governments around the world.

The government response ramped up quickly after January 23, and restrictions became more and more onerous through February and most of March. Access to residential compounds was banned to people not registered as living within them. Restaurants closed for around 2.5 months, only recently re-opening. Much domestic travel required quarantine upon arrival at destination for 14 days, and a similar policy was introduced for international travel once the pandemic was confirmed as a global problem. Right now, even foreigners with valid visas and working permits are not allowed back into China. The concern now is focused on Chinese nationals returning to China from Europe and America. The draconian measures the government is implementing to take such people directly from airports to quarantine facilities shows how seriously the government is taking these potential “imported” coronavirus cases. Of the 99 new cases reported on April 11 across China, 97 were “imported”, according to Reuters.

Economic impact

Meanwhile, confidence in the government response seems high. Nevertheless, businesspeople realize that many types of business are being seriously hit. Food and beverage, retail, real estate, and travel are the four biggest losers. A lot of people in these sectors have either been furloughed for a period of time or have lost their jobs completely. Migrant workers in the construction sector are hugely impacted. Many of these jobs don’t show up in official government figures, so while there has been a significant uptick in the unemployment rate, it is likely that the real figure is much higher. A lot of lower-earning individuals will be suffering for a prolonged period of time.

Compared with other countries, the support measures that the government has put in place have been relatively limited. The most relevant benefit to businesses has been the partial waiving of the social security contribution made by employers on behalf of staff between the period of February to June. There are other programs in place as well, but most of them require the companies applying to be involved in the effort to combat the virus spread. Loans have also been relatively difficult for many Chinese companies to obtain. The bankruptcy of many companies and major problems for account receivable collection for those that remain standing seems inevitable.

Potential recovery

At the moment certain sectors of the economy are recovering. But not quickly. Malls are open, but sparsely populated. Restaurants are open, but with very few customers. There seems to still be a kind of reluctance among people to go out and enjoy themselves, perhaps worried about opprobrium from the many that are still struggling financially or that they will be accused of potentially spreading the virus. Habits may well have changed permanently. Unsurprisingly, people are reluctant to spend large amounts of money on cars, houses etc. because of the overall uncertainty.

Certain sectors are definitely booming. This will be a worldwide phenomenon, and it in fact may play into the hands of China in the medium term. It is well-known that China is ahead in the “race to 5G”, which is all about “digital” and “remote”. During this pandemic, China probably pulled further ahead. Online teaching and conferencing have boomed. Delivery of goods rather than visiting shops has continued its transition to the mainstream. The economy has taken another step towards modernization.

A lot of the companies that have benefited from that shift will presumably be flush with cash, and keen to invest it overseas going forwards considering the knowledge and technology they have accumulated already in China.

One particular overall impression that I have been left with is that rather than “living”, people in China are choosing to just “exist” for a while. This may be easier for the Chinese population, many of whom remember the tough times before the opening up of the economy in the 1980s and 1990s, compared with the baby-boomers and younger generations in the west who, in the eyes of the Chinese, have been living decadent lives since the 1950s. Nevertheless, this attitude will have severe repercussions for the economy as a whole. To what extent the Chinese government opts to encourage the return of a bit of that decadence that certainly existed in the last several years in China may have a big effect on the medium-term economic impact in the country. The outbreak of pandemic Covid-19 all over the world has disturbed the political, social, economic, religious and financial structures of the whole world. World’s topmost economies such as the US, China, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and many others are at the verge of collapse. Besides, Stock Markets around the world have been pounded and oil prices have fallen off a cliff. In just a week 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment and a week later another 6.6 million people started searching for jobs. Also, many experts on economic and financial matters have warned about the worsening condition of global economic and financial structure. Such as Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of International Monitory Fund (IMF), explained that “a recession at least as bad as during the Global Financial Crisis or worse”. Moreover, Covid-19 is harming the global economy because the world has been experiencing the most difficult economic situation since World War-II. When it comes to the human cost of the Coronavirus pandemic it is immeasurable therefore all countries need to work together with cooperation and coordination to protect the human beings as well as limit the economic damages. For instance, the lockdown has restricted various businesses such as travelling to contain the virus consequently this business is coming to an abrupt halt globally.

Keeping in a view the staggering situation G-20 nations called an emergency meeting to discuss worsening conditions and prepare a strategy to combat Covid-19 as losses could be reduced. The spread of the epidemic is picking up speed and causing more economic damages. It is stated by the U.S. official from federal reserves that American unemployment would be 30% and its economy would shrink by half. As for as the jobs of common people are concerned, there is also a real threat of losing their jobs because with business shutting down that shows that companies will be unable to pay to workers resultantly they have to lay off them. While when it comes to the stock market, it is severely damaged by Covid-19 such as the stock market of the United States is down about thirty percent. By looking over the existing condition of several businesses, most of the investors are removing its money from multiple businesses in this regard $83 billion has already removed from emerging markets since the outbreak of Covid-19. So, the impact of Covid-19 is severe on the economic structure of the world because people are not spending money resultantly businesses are not getting revenue therefore most of the businesses are shutting up shops.

It also observed that the economic recovery from this fatal disease is only possible by 2021 because it has left severe impacts on the global economy and the countries face multiple difficulties to bring it back in a stable condition. Most of the nations are going through recession and collapse of their economic structure that points out the staggering conditions for them in this regard almost 80 countries have already requested International Monetary Fund (IMF) for financial help. Such as Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan also requested IMF to help Islamabad to fight against Novel Coronavirus. Furthermore, there is uncertainty and unpredictability concerning the spread of Coronavirus. So, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) stated that global growth could be cut in half to 1.5% in 2020 if the virus continues to spread. Most of the economists have already predicted about the recession to happen because there is no surety and still no one knows that how for this pandemic fall and how long the impact would be is still difficult to predict. Besides, Bernard M. Wolf, professor, Economics Schulich School of Business, said that “it is catastrophic and we have never seen anything like this, we have a huge portion of the economy and people under lockdown that’s going to have a huge impact on what can be produced and not produced”.

As Covid-19 has already become a reason for closing the multiple businesses and closure of supermarkets which seems empty nowadays. Therefore, many economists have fear and predicted that the pandemic could lead to inflation. For instance, Bloomberg Economics warns that “full-year GDP growth could fall to zero in a worst-case pandemic scenario”. There are various sectors and economies that seem most vulnerable because of this pandemic, such as, both the demand and supply have been affected by the virus, as a result of depressed activity Foreign Direct Investment flows could fall between 5 to 15 percent. Besides, the most affected sectors have become vulnerable such as tourism and travel-related industries, hotels, restaurants, sports events, consumer electronics, financial markets, transportation, and overload of health systems. Diane Swonk, Chief Economist at the Advisory Firm Grant Thornton, explained that “various nations have multinational companies that operate in the world because the economy is global. For instance, China has touchpoints into every other economy in the world, they are part of the global supply chain. So one should shut down production in the U.S. by shutting down production in China”. Besides, Kristalina Georgieva in a press release suggested that four things need to be done to fight against Covid-19 and avoid or minimize losses. Firstly, continue with essential containment measures and support for the health system. Secondly, shield affected people and firms with large timely targeted fiscal and financial sector measures. Thirdly, reduce stress to the financial system and avoid con tangent. Fourthly, must plan for recovery and must minimize the potential scaring effects of the crisis through policy action. Concerning the serious and worsening conditions all over the world, nations need cooperation and coordination among themselves including the help and mature as well as sensible behaviour of people to effectively fight against Coronavirus. Otherwise, because of the globalized and connected world, wrong actions and policies taken by any state will leave a severe impact on other countries as well. This is not the time of political point-scoring and fight with each other rather it is high time for states to cooperate, coordinate, and help each other to defeat this fatal pandemic first for saving the global economic and financial structure.

Continue Reading

East Asia

Hong Kong Developments: India’s Tactical Punch To China

Published

on

Hong Kong’s National Security Legislation: A Brief Overview

A new wide-ranging Security Law was passed by China for Hong Kong on May 28, 2020 outstripping it of its autonomy, and giving Beijing exceptional power over Hong Kong’s affairs. In the wake of growing resentment against China all over the world, owing to the pandemic and the mystery surrounding its origins in Wuhan and the bitterness against Xi Jinping’s aggressive leadership, the Hong Kong move is going to further tarnish the Dragon’s domestic and global image. With China using its destabilising power over Hong Kong by ensuring that the city has a stern law against rebellion against Beijing’s authority, policies and actions, the National Security Legislation for Hong Kong is highly problematic. The government in Beijing has repressed Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and contravened on its promised semi-autonomous status with the National People’s Congress (NCP), unilaterally introducing a new legislation that criminalises any act of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign and external forces. It curtails the freedom enjoyed by people in Hong Kong, restraining freedom of speech and the right to protest.

On December 19, 1984, the governments of the UK and China reached an agreement on Hong Kong. The Sino-British Joint Declaration was registered with the UN on June 12, 1985. It is a legally-binding international treaty that ensured that Hong Kong’s autonomy, freedom and independent judiciary, rule of law and rights would see no alteration for the next 50 years. The British handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997, under a unique agreement, the ‘Basic Law’, the ‘One country, Two systems’ framework. This was done to safeguard certain liberties for the prosperity and development of Hong Kong and needed to uphold its stability and culture: the freedom of speech and assembly, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights that people in China did not have. The same agreement gave the people of Hong Kong the right to enact their own national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law.

China as a co-signatory of the Joint Declaration has flouted its promise, ignoring the need for constructive political dialogue and bypassing Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, by approving the new legislation that was enacted on June 30, 2020. The National security Legislation will, in time, be inserted in the Annex III of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The anti-government demonstrations by the unhappy Hong Kong population against Beijing have been a source of discontent and embarrassment for Xi Jinping and a major “security threat” to the Dragon. The anti-Beijing protests with broader anti-China and pro-democracy movement have been gaining greater impetus than before in Hong Kong since June 2019. Xi Jinping is set to thrash this with this new legislation that is seen, more or less, as a vengeance regarding the withdrawal of Beijing’s contentious extradition bill of the previous year.

“The key provisions of the Security Legislation include that:

  • Crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison
  • Damaging public transport facilities can be considered terrorism
  • Those found guilty will not be allowed to stand for public office
  • Companies can be fined if convicted under the law
  • Beijing will establish a new security office in Hong Kong, with its own law enforcement personnel – neither of which would come under the local authority’s jurisdiction
  • This office can send some cases to be tried in mainland China – but Beijing has said it will only have that power over a “tiny number” of cases
  • In addition, Hong Kong will have to establish its own national security commission to enforce the laws, with a Beijing-appointed adviser
  • Hong Kong’s chief executive will have the power to appoint judges to hear national security cases, raising fears about judicial autonomy
  • Importantly, Beijing will have power over how the law should be interpreted, not any Hong Kong judicial or policy body. If the law conflicts with any Hong Kong law, the Beijing law takes priority
  • Some trials will be heard behind closed doors.
  • People suspected of breaking the law can be wire-tapped and put under surveillance
  • Management of foreign non-governmental organisations and news agencies will be strengthened
  • The law will also apply to non-permanent residents and people “from outside [Hong Kong]… who are not permanent residents of Hong Kong”.[i]

The Hong Kong population faces a huge blow to their civil liberties and freedoms with the enactment of this law, histrionically changing life in the region. It is clearly without any accountability and transparency, being kept as a secret from the government of Hong Kong and the public, till its enactment. There have been instances of its abuse since it has come into being, using it to clampdown on peaceful and legitimate protests and stiffens control over media, social networking, education, and the social organisations operating in the region, giving undue and extensive authority to the Chinese investigating authority to search properties, prohibit and restrict movement and travel, censor online content and engage in covert surveillance, freeze or confiscate assets, and engage in intercepting communications without a court directive. The new draconian law has set up another new body in the government of Hong Kong, the Committee for Safeguarding National Security, with a delegate from the Chinese central government to “advise” and oversee it. This body is not subject to any checks and balances, besides being not accountable to any other structure of the government, bypassing legislative scrutiny. The government in Beijing is setting up the “Office for Safeguarding National Security” in Hong Kong with the staff and the office not falling under the city’s jurisdiction, hereby ensuring that their actions cannot be reviewed by the Hong Kong local courts. The personnel of the office have complete immunity and cannot be subject to inspection, examination or custody by local law and administration in Hong Kong.

This legislation will have a huge effect on the business and financial community as well as tarnish Hong Kong’s image as a global financial hub integrating in with China. With the enragement building against China in the pandemic period, Hong Kong will drastically suffer due to this legislative imposition. It is bound to have a hugely negative impact on the educational and social systems with heavy economic and political toll for the region.

India’s Diplomatic Move against China

China is facing an image deficit, global pushback and loss of allies in a world grappling with the unprecedented, havoc wreathing COVID-19 pandemic. With this backdrop, the controversial security legislation for Hong Kong that redefines the relationship between the people of Hong Kong and mainland China has been met with great criticism from the pro-democracy parts of the world like the US, Japan, Australia and the co-signatory of the Joint Declaration, the UK, among others. There has been great pushback against Xi Jinping’s policies that seek to flout the international norms and code of conduct and significantly, India has shed its silence and raised concern against the outrageous Chinese actions that seek to mould the world led by an order dictated by it. 

India played rather tactically, breaking its silence on Hong Kong for the first time ever, raising China’s new security legislation for Hong Kong at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. This diplomatic move by India is likely a consequence of the deteriorating Sino-Indian engagement and the recent border clashes in Galwan Valley in Ladakh. India’s permanent representative to UN in Geneva, Rajiv Chander expressed India’s optimism that “the relevant parties will take into account these views and address them properly, seriously and objectively.” Without naming the India’s hostile neighbour, Mr.Chander argued that New Delhi is engaged in “a close watch on recent developments” in Hong Kong due to the presence of the large Indian diaspora in the region. With a number of bilateral agreements and MoUs signed between Hong Kong and India, the former is host to a number of Indian companies, various professionals in sectors like IT, banking, as a centre for conferences and exhibitions and vice versa with New Delhi having huge stakes in the region in question. The India-Hong Kong relationship has a number of facets from academic collaboration, bilateral trade and investments to tourism and cultural links.

This raising up of the issue of Hong Kong, China’s Achilles Heel, comes as a surprise and is a strategic move as New Delhi in the past, remained a mute and calculated spectator of the developments in the region. As China has been overtly as well as covertly involved in the domestic issues in India stimulating unrest in various parts of the country, even raising the Kashmir issue at UN Security Council after the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019, it was imperative for New Delhi to take a firm stand against the regional bully by reviewing its approach and studied silence on Chinese matters. It landed a strategic knockback to Beijing in the aftermath of Chinese aggression in the Sino-Indian border and its belligerent approach in the South Asian region. The Sino-Indian relationship has undergone a significant technological and diplomatic tailspin, with India banning a number of Chinese applications, making it clear to Beijing to restrain from commenting on India’s internal matters and the Hong Kong reaction is another changing diplomatic stance of India, showing its firm resolve against the dictatorial and hegemonic ambitions of China. These events show New Delhi’s revised approach to the tyrant state in the aftermath of its pugnacious advances.

While India, in the past, had been unwilling to give visas to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists and even denied meeting the activists at G-20 summit last year for a petition to pressurise Beijing, the recent events at Galwan Valley have rocked the basic foundational structure of the relationship between these two neighbours.

With China acting out of line and raking up issues pertaining to India’s domestic issues and further, expanding and deepening its ruthless activities in creating troubled waters for India, both regionally and globally, New Delhi’s tactical punch is a welcome move in times of emerging uncertainties about China’s unruly and anarchic misdoings. This is an opportune moment for India, hence, to support the countries against a hegemonic China that seeks to advance a world in a mould that suits its needs and designs.


HONG KONG DEVELOPMENTS: INDIA’S TACTICAL PUNCH TO CHINA

Hong Kong’s National Security Legislation: A Brief Overview

A new wide-ranging Security Law was passed by China for Hong Kong on May 28, 2020 outstripping it of its autonomy, and giving Beijing exceptional power over Hong Kong’s affairs. In the wake of growing resentment against China all over the world, owing to the pandemic and the mystery surrounding its origins in Wuhan and the bitterness against Xi Jinping’s aggressive leadership, the Hong Kong move is going to further tarnish the Dragon’s domestic and global image. With China using its destabilising power over Hong Kong by ensuring that the city has a stern law against rebellion against Beijing’s authority, policies and actions, the National Security Legislation for Hong Kong is highly problematic. The government in Beijing has repressed Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and contravened on its promised semi-autonomous status with the National People’s Congress (NCP), unilaterally introducing a new legislation that criminalises any act of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign and external forces. It curtails the freedom enjoyed by people in Hong Kong, restraining freedom of speech and the right to protest.

On December 19, 1984, the governments of the UK and China reached an agreement on Hong Kong. The Sino-British Joint Declaration was registered with the UN on June 12, 1985. It is a legally-binding international treaty that ensured that Hong Kong’s autonomy, freedom and independent judiciary, rule of law and rights would see no alteration for the next 50 years.The British handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997, under a unique agreement, the ‘Basic Law’, the‘One country, Two systems’ framework. This was done to safeguard certain liberties for the prosperity and development of Hong Kong and needed to uphold its stability and culture: the freedom of speech and assembly, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights that people in China did not have. The same agreement gave the people of Hong Kong the right to enact their own national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law.

China as a co-signatory of the Joint Declaration has flouted its promise, ignoring the need for constructive political dialogue and bypassing Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, by approving the new legislation that was enacted on June 30, 2020. The National security Legislation will, in time, be inserted in the Annex III of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The anti-government demonstrations by the unhappy Hong Kong population against Beijing have been a source of discontent and embarrassment for Xi Jinping and a major “security threat” to the Dragon. The anti-Beijing protests with broader anti-China and pro-democracy movement have been gaining greater impetus than before in Hong Kong since June 2019. Xi Jinping is set to thrash this with this new legislationthat is seen, more or less, as a vengeance regarding the withdrawal ofBeijing’s contentious extradition bill of the previous year.

“The key provisions of the Security Legislation include that:

  • Crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison
  • Damaging public transport facilities can be considered terrorism
  • Those found guilty will not be allowed to stand for public office
  • Companies can be fined if convicted under the law
  • Beijing will establish a new security office in Hong Kong, with its own law enforcement personnel – neither of which would come under the local authority’s jurisdiction
  • This office can send some cases to be tried in mainland China – but Beijing has said it will only have that power over a “tiny number” of cases
  • In addition, Hong Kong will have to establish its own national security commission to enforce the laws, with a Beijing-appointed adviser
  • Hong Kong’s chief executive will have the power to appoint judges to hear national security cases, raising fears about judicial autonomy
  • Importantly, Beijing will have power over how the law should be interpreted, not any Hong Kong judicial or policy body. If the law conflicts with any Hong Kong law, the Beijing law takes priority
  • Some trials will be heard behind closed doors.
  • People suspected of breaking the law can be wire-tapped and put under surveillance
  • Management of foreign non-governmental organisations and news agencies will be strengthened
  • The law will also apply to non-permanent residents and people “from outside [Hong Kong]… who are not permanent residents of Hong Kong”.[i]”

The Hong Kong population faces a huge blow to their civil liberties and freedoms with the enactment of this law, histrionically changing life in the region. It is clearly without any accountability and transparency, being kept as a secret from the government of Hong Kong and the public, till its enactment. There have been instances of its abuse since it has come into being, using it to clampdown on peaceful and legitimate protests and stiffens control over media, social networking, education, and the social organisations operating in the region, giving undue and extensive authority to the Chinese investigating authority to search properties, prohibit and restrict movement and travel, censor online content and engage in covert surveillance, freeze or confiscate assets, and engage in intercepting communications without a court directive. The new draconian law has set up another new body in the government of Hong Kong, the Committee for Safeguarding National Security, with a delegate from the Chinese central government to “advise” and oversee it. This body is not subject to any checks and balances, besides being not accountable to any other structure of the government, bypassing legislative scrutiny. The government in Beijing is setting up the “Office for Safeguarding National Security” in Hong Kong with thestaff and the office not falling under the city’s jurisdiction, hereby ensuring that their actions cannot be reviewed by the Hong Kong local courts. The personnel of the office have complete immunity and cannot be subject to inspection, examination or custody by local law and administration in Hong Kong.

This legislation will have a huge effect on the business and financial community as well as tarnish Hong Kong’s image as a global financial hub integrating in with China. With the enragement building against China in the pandemic period, Hong Kong will drastically suffer due to this legislative imposition. It is bound to have a hugely negative impact on the educational and social systems with heavy economic and political toll for the region.

India’s Diplomatic Move against China

China is facing an image deficit, global pushback and loss of allies in a world grappling with the unprecedented, havoc wreathing COVID-19 pandemic. With this backdrop, the controversial security legislation for Hong Kong that redefines the relationship between the people of Hong Kong and mainland China has been met with great criticism from the pro-democracy parts of the world like the US, Japan, Australia and the co-signatory of the Joint Declaration, the UK, among others.There has been great pushback against Xi Jinping’s policies that seek to flout the international norms and code of conduct and significantly, India has shed its silence and raised concern against the outrageous Chinese actions that seek to mould the world led by an order dictated by it. 

India played rather tactically, breaking its silence on Hong Kong for the first time ever, raising China’s new security legislation for Hong Kong at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. This diplomatic move by India is likely a consequence of the deteriorating Sino-Indian engagement and the recent border clashes in GalwanValley in Ladakh. India’s permanent representative to UN in Geneva, Rajiv Chanderexpressed India’s optimism that “the relevant parties will take into account these views and address them properly, seriously and objectively.” Without naming theIndia’s hostile neighbour, Mr.Chanderargued that New Delhi is engaged in “a close watch on recent developments” in Hong Kong due to the presence of the large Indian diaspora in the region. With a number of bilateral agreements and MoUs signed between Hong Kong and India, the former is host to a number of Indian companies, various professionals in sectors like IT, banking, as a centre for conferences and exhibitions and vice versa with New Delhi having huge stakes in the region in question. The India-Hong Kong relationship has a number of facets from academic collaboration, bilateral trade and investments to tourism and cultural links.

This raising up of the issue of Hong Kong, China’s Achilles Heel, comes as a surprise and is a strategic move as New Delhi in the past, remained a mute and calculated spectator of the developments in the region. As China has been overtly as well as covertly involved in the domestic issues in India stimulating unrest in various parts of the country, even raising the Kashmir issue at UN Security Council after the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019, it was imperative for New Delhi to take a firm stand against the regional bully by reviewing its approach and studied silence on Chinese matters. It landed a strategic knockback to Beijing in the aftermath of Chinese aggression in the Sino-Indian border and its belligerent approach in the South Asian region. The Sino-Indian relationship has undergone a significant technological and diplomatic tailspin, with India banning a number of Chinese applications, making it clear to Beijing to restrain from commenting on India’s internal matters and the Hong Kong reaction is another changing diplomatic stance of India, showing its firm resolve against the dictatorial and hegemonic ambitions of China. These events show New Delhi’s revised approach to the tyrant state in the aftermath of its pugnacious advances.

While India, in the past, had been unwilling to give visas to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists and even deniedmeeting the activists at G-20 summit last year for a petition to pressurise Beijing, the recent events at Galwan Valley have rocked the basic foundational structure of the relationship between these two neighbours.

With China acting out of line and raking up issues pertaining to India’s domestic issues and further, expanding and deepening its ruthless activities in creating troubled waters for India, both regionally and globally, New Delhi’s tactical punch is a welcome move in times of emerging uncertainties about China’s unruly and anarchic misdoings. This is an opportune moment for India, hence, to support the countries against a hegemonic China that seeks to advance a world in a mould that suits its needs and designs.

Continue Reading

East Asia

Changing equations of US-China relations and Taiwan Factor

Published

on

The relations among the two permanent members of security council have improved since the Nixon surprise visit to China in 1972 and ending the 22-year long isolation of Mainland China, although the reasons may have been many, the immediate result was consolidating the Sino-Soviet split and weakening the USSR geopolitically as well as strategically. By the next decade, China went through sweeping reforms and under Deng Xiaoping opened-up to the world. The pragmatic Deng Xiaoping’s two statements best encapsulate this period, “Poverty is not socialism, to be rich is glorious” and “Hide your capacities and bide your time”, here we can understand that he was sure that without opening-up economically and becoming an economic powerhouse, the People’s Republic of China will not be able to fulfill its objectives and while in pursuit of it, the best option is to stay humble and keep working. However, since the 2000s the policy shifted towards the peaceful rise of China, and after the 2008 financial crisis which hit western economies disproportionately, provided the opportunity for China to begin creating its sphere of influence. The accession of Premier Xi Jinping brought to fore the ambitions of China and in his inaugural address, he even talked about the China Dream. The Chinese employed the strategy of coercive economic assistance and provided pompous loans to countries in ASEAN, East Asia, South Asia, and even Eastern Europe (the 17+1 dialogue is a good example). The tools for this diplomacy are the Belt & Road Initiative and Debt diplomacy. With governments finding it difficult to get credit lines from the USA backed IMF and World Bank because they are not in a position to comply with the policy decisions which these organizations prescribe, the Chinese provide a solution that is too good to deny. Chinese say we do not care about what type of governments you have and we are ourselves an authoritarian regime, thus, it is not necessary to follow the politico-economic model prescribed by the liberal west to be successful. Although it may be music to the ears of many countries, China asks for something bigger in return; they ask for a great deal of deference and compliance as well as they, in the long run, take control of areas of strategic importance; a good example is Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka.

All the while the USA is continuously ceding space, moving inward, and creating opportunities for China to take advantage, unintentionally of course. Right from the 2008 financial crisis, the USA was embroiled with internal strife & division which culminated in the election of Donald Trump. The Trump slogan of Making America Great Again moved the US towards isolationism & made the Chinese more resolute to implement BRI and practice Debt diplomacy with greater vigor and aggression. However, although China is trying to carve out its sphere of influence (earlier covertly and now more & more overtly), USA will not likely let it happen while trying to contain China and for that, it has been supporting the claims of other party countries in South & East China seas, frequent military drills and exercises with allies, Malabar Exercise with India and Japan in the Indian Ocean, moving military assets in the South China Sea as well as tackling Chinese challenge on trade & technology front.

We know that the conflict between the two countries is on multiple fronts and as China has become more assertive amid the Pandemic, opening up border disputes with Japan in the East China Sea, ASEAN nations in the South China Sea, Taiwan in the straits and India in the Himalayas. This geo-political tango initiated by China can spiral from conflict into a confrontation. And what feeds into it is the absence of any channel of communication except the top between China and USA which if existed could have held track 1.5 or track 2 talks to reach a Modus Vivendi between these two nations. And what feeds into this fire is both the Xi and Trump administrations ceding to a discourse hyper-nationalist, which had led to further depletion for any diplomatic flexibility.

The tit for tat can only go so long without getting out of hand. We can observe, everywhere China is in confrontation, the USA is backing the aggrieved party. However, in the case of Taiwan, we can see direct confrontation among the two powers, China claims Taiwan to be its territory under One China policy and on the other hand, the USA feels it is its responsibility to honor the defense agreement with Taiwan and with the democratization, the two countries have come further close.

Taiwan factor & shrinking space for maneuverability

President of the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan) Tsai Ing-wen in her inaugural address laid out her articulation of Taiwan’s cross-strait policy – peace, parity, democracy, and dialogue. This policy statement in the wake of Hong-Kong’s new security law, confirms that Taiwan will in no way compromise with its democratic set-up which it had earned after a long 38 years of struggle against the authoritarian state.

The success of Taiwan in dealing with COVID-19 (creating a Taiwan model), its warnings to the World & WHO which were never heard and its philanthropist actions for many countries have earned a lot of goodwill and international praise. The world is now waking up to the fact that being a strait away from PRC and facing the brunt of its coercive tactics to amalgamate Taiwan with PRC, Taiwan is very experienced in the Modus operandi of CCP and can help the like-minded countries deal with the asymmetric warfare which is practiced in real-time via disinformation campaigns on social media. Taiwan can with other like-minded democracies establish a framework to counter cognitive warfare (of which disinformation is a part) by providing a proactive & accurate narrative against influence operations that are attempting to undermine democracy by trying to nudge outcomes that will affect the political process.

The Taiwanese foreign policy revolves around 4 tenants which are, maintaining status-quo with PRC, gaining goodwill among world democracies and likeminded countries, increasing defensive capabilities, and economic strength.

However, managing the four tenants with increasing animosity between China and the USA is a challenge in itself. The current shift in the Trump administration’s approach towards distinguishing the Chinese Communist Party from the Chinese people by remembering the May 4th movement and the roots of democracy, the USA is trying to counter cognitive warfare by delegitimizing CCP on mainland China (as perceived by the CCP ideologues). In addition to this, because of Taiwan, CCP is reconciling with the fact that its approach towards Taiwan has failed, and what once China considered asymmetry of interests for Taiwan to be inclined towards China, has been shifting (with the latest pew polls showing record-low support for increasing ties with CCP). All of this mixed with China’s psych of perpetual vulnerability may soon lead to China trying to alter status-quo militarily.

This tells us that space for Taiwan to maneuver has been shrinking with every passing day. In the context of the greater Indo-pacific geopolitical theatre, Taiwan has a lot to offer be it for the USA or other middle powers who would like to maintain the status quo towards free and open International waters for trade and commerce. The current world order, being unstable and challenged with non-traditional security issues (an example being COVID-19 pandemic) as well as the assertive rise of China with a proportional rise in its vulnerabilities requires a new perspective. Taiwan being a Subject Matter Expert in these issues with a unique perspective that comes from facing vulnerability because of global isolation can become an asset to the USA as well as middle powers in developing stratagem which can be successful in saving the multi-polar world order. Taiwan understands this and should move practically ahead while calculating in real-time the permutations and combinations of possibilities and take every step likewise.

The world ahead & way forward

The whole world is looking at the American elections which are 6 months away, and the policy till then would be to contain Chinese aggression. Even China would take steps calculating the impacts and will focus on the elections. The middle powers (Japan, U.K, France, Germany, India, South Korea, etc.) should work out a strategy (less dependent on the USA) to focus on maintaining the status-quo (multipolarity).

The combination of Chinese overconfidence (overt expression of its vulnerabilities) coupled with its perception of Taiwan’s under importance in the USA’s foreign policy doctrine can lead to serious conflict and which could easily spiral in this season of Nationalism.

The situation between China and the USA will deteriorate, but to which extent and what speed will depend on the shifts in Chinese aggressiveness here onwards and the American elections in November’20. Taiwanese citizens can play an important role and so do the middle-power countries if the people and government cherish and pursue to maintain its vibrant democracy and the middle powers help the Taiwanese people in this pursuit. Hopefully, it may deter the two nations from further escalations and it may very well be the only chance to contain Chinese ambitions with minimizing the Damage to Humankind.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Southeast Asia2 hours ago

Three new approaches to refine analysis of the relationship between China and Indonesia

In April this year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, China and Indonesia commemorated 70 years of diplomatic relations...

Defense4 hours ago

‘Urgent need’ to stop erosion of nuclear order

The lack of trust and cooperation among States, and the diminished faith in “the very multilateral institution that was designed...

Africa6 hours ago

An Insight into Issues Creating Tension in Nigeria

As a successful Igbo business entrepreneur residing in Swaziland, the southern tip of Africa, Kenneth Onyekachi Ihemekwele has a clear...

South Asia8 hours ago

Silver Linings of the New Political Map of Pakistan

A ‘new political map’ of Pakistan was need of the hour in the midst of Indian controversial unilateral decisions in...

Green Planet10 hours ago

Green Politics: The hope for a better tomorrow

Authors: Anurag Mishra and Aaditya Vikram Sharma Green Political Parties in India To pick from the last instalment, the culture...

Middle East12 hours ago

Whither the Arab and the Muslim world?

An agreement to establish diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel and a Saudi-Pakistani spat over Kashmir coupled...

EU Politics14 hours ago

Coronavirus: Commission reaches first agreement on a potential vaccine

Today, the European Commission has reached a first agreement with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to purchase a potential vaccine against...

Trending