“I understand politics as a full-contact sport, and mind neither the sharp elbows nor the occasional blind-side hit.” Believe that if you believe the US presidential hopeful, Barrack Obama. But what is happening in the Chinese province of Tibet is more than just that definition of politics. If sport is what it is, then it is playing Rugby with a foetus.
China is enjoying and enduring it all at the moment. Thanks to the pump and pageantry of the Olympic Games later in the year and before then the passing of the Games’ torch through Tibet.
Recent happenings in the Chinese province have drummed up concerns that have been largely typified by the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, the Dalai Lama. The characteristically cool Nobel Peace Prize laureate looked vividly livid when he reacted to the brutal suppression of the peaceful demonstration in Lhasa over the limited freedom they endure, calling for autonomy.
But with the Olympic Games drawing ever closer, any protest is given a slant of sabotage by mainland China. The Dalai Lama has made it unequivocally clear that he supports the hosting of the Games in Beijing, so the question of the Tibetan monks’ protests meaning anti-Games is unfounded.
Despite proclaiming its independence from China in 1911, before the collapse of the Qing government, no Western power has come out in favor of Tibet’s independence or granted it diplomatic recognition.
Citing historical records and the Seventeen Point Agreement signed by the Tibetan government in 1951, China claims Tibet as a part of Beijing, something every country in the world recognizes. Even the Dalai Lama, the head of the Tibetan government in exile, does not reject China’s sovereignty over Tibet, according to Wikipedia.
What’s in contest is the lack of freedom and the handling of peaceful protests in Tibet like elsewhere in China. This brings me to the reported statement attributed to our Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
According to the official Chinese government news agency, Xinhua, Zainab Bangura told the Chinese ambassador in Freetown this week that Sierra Leone “sees clearly the intention of the Dalai Lama clique to instigate violence in Tibet to promote separatism of the region, and to disturb the Beijing Olympics.”
The report also says that the country “supports the Chinese government’s measures adopted in dealing with the violence”, assuring that the “Beijing Olympics will be a great success.”
This report has been completely dismissed by the Minister of Information Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, as being “over editorialised”. He told journalists yesterday that Xinhua wanted to make a case that outside governments were supporting their handling of the protests in the renegade province, quoting Mrs Bangura as saying that the report said far more than she had said. I believe that!
I believe that explanation because it is obvious how far a regime not democratically elected can go. It only tells us how much, or less, the Chinese government takes so-called small countries including Sierra Leone. Overly insignificant however needed. If the over-editorialising is confirmed as true, then the Chinese ambassador must be summoned and asked to apologise. I am told there was no journalist in the meeting which means the story could have been deliberately distorted to suit their convenience even if at the embarrassment of our nation. We are a democratic country and do not brutalise peaceful citizens.
We surely need an entente cordial, or entente amicable (as the French President Nicholas Sarkozy recently referred to his country’s relations with the UK), but not at the expense of what Minister IB Kargbo calls “our respect for human rights and democratic values.” I will call it what the late former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cooke called “ethical foreign policy”.
I have always stressed the fact that we are a proud nation of the world and are counted as one of the beacons of democracy and good governance. We should stand tall. I was therefore heartened and vindicated when I learned recently that President Ernest Bai Koroma was appointed chairman of the African Union’s committee to midwife the strive by the continent to have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Despite the apparent over-dependence on China by many African countries, we should not swallow our pride.
Yes, I know the world’s most powerful nation, the United States, is most times cautious with pronouncements about the situation in China. That explains why despite all the spat from time to time, China remains on the US’s most favoured nation (MFN) status. But one reason for that is because China has the largest market in the world by virtue of its massive population. But how much use are African countries making of that Jurassic Park size of the world’s fastest growing economy? It is mostly a one-way traffic with Chinese businesses emasculating local markets; bringing in cheap and short-lasting products. Not to mention the flying-in of both their goods and services for their companies, and the lowly treatment of those Sierra Leoneans who labour at their companies.
We definitely want China to help us. But certainly not at the expense of our citizens and our reputation which we fought for with flesh and blood. And by the way the One-China-Two-Policies applies only in the case of Taiwan, NOT Tibet. The people of Tibet deserve some dignity, and the world, among them Sierra Leone, must let this be heard, listened to, and memorised by Beijing.
How can a people be brutally suppressed for simply protesting peacefully? Shame on anyone who denies its people their inalienable rights! They are sacrosanct! And the ambivalence of the world in condemning the ruthlessness in Lhasa has only strengthened the resolve of another brutal regime in Myanmar/Burma. And it emphasises the point many have been making that the US treatment of “terror” suspects has eroded its moral high ground in preaching human rights. This has emboldened rogue regimes who see it as an alibi to oppress.
But again if you believe Barrack Obama, then hear him again: “…troubling is the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics…our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem.” China, over to you! You dare not bet everything on Tibet. Your Olympic games can be a flop. Force and violence can only beget force and violence. Remember Martin Luther King Jr, one of the most pacifist people of our time: “Violence is the voice of the unheard”. That was proved by the Tibetan monks just the other day. Despite the carefully choreographed and controlled media tour of the province, the Tibetan monks protested and the world media was just handy. The Tiananmen Sq massacre of 1989 did not kill dissent, it only lulled it. Let us hope China allows it people to speak out and be listened to. I am betting on Tibet. They will stand tall in all of this. By Umaru Fofana