Protests over the Chinese state's brutal treatment of the population of Tibet have dogged the passage of the Olympic torch from the moment it was lit. They seem likely to reach a climax on June 21 when the flame reaches Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.
In March demonstrations in Tibet turned to riots in which the Chinese government said that 19 died, the victims of Tibetan mobs, while the Tibetan government-in-exile say that 140 died, most of them victims of the security forces. There was also reporting of riots in other provinces that are home to significant Tibetan communities.
The Chinese blamed the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, for inciting violence. The Communist Party Secretary in Tibet said "The Dalai Lama is a wolf wrapped in a habit, a monster with human face and animal's heart." An article in the Guangming Daily declared that "The Dalai Lama and his supporters, representatives of the feudal serf owners of old Tibet, have never done anything good for the Tibetan people in the past 50 years". Leftist supporters of Chinese state repression denied that there was any ‘national liberation' struggle going on in the region, insisting that the ‘secessionists' were backed by America and that the Dalai Lama was a paid stooge of US intelligence, using the build up to the Beijing Olympics to undermine Chinese integrity and stability.
In opposition to this the Free Tibet Campaign says in a Fact Sheet that "China's invasion by 40,000 troops in 1950 was an act of unprovoked aggression. [...] Some 1.2 million Tibetans are estimated to have been killed by the Chinese since 1950 [...] The influx of Chinese nationals has destabilised the economy" and that there are now "5 to 5.5 million Chinese to 4.5 million Tibetans". Meanwhile "The Indian Government reports that are three nuclear missile sites, and an estimated 300,000 troops stationed on Tibetan territory". This campaign also has a lot of support from famous celebrities, from Richard Gere's speech at the 1993 Academy Awards to Harrison Ford, Sharon Stone, U2 and REM.
Alongside the liberals and celebrity Buddhists there are leftists who do see a struggle for national independence. "The riots and protests that have erupted in Tibet this week are the product of decades of national oppression" says Socialist Worker (22/3/8). The SWP is disappointed that "economic growth has passed by most Tibetans. Chinese people and other ethnic minorities have taken most of the new jobs created - which is one reason why they were targeted during the recent rioting." Such remarks seem reminiscent of the ‘they come over here and take our jobs' school of thought...
A number of these diverse propaganda points are actually confirmed by reality. There is no doubt that the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet has been a long chronicle of barbarism. It is equally true that the Lamaist regime they toppled was based on a centuries-old system of exploitation. And it is no less the case that any imperialist power seeking to curtail China's own growing imperialist ambitions will want to encourage secessionist or oppositional movements in the areas it controls. Whether the CIA pays the Dalai Lama is not the point. American imperialism has often played the human rights card to get at other imperialisms: look at the whole period of the Cold War when the regimes in the USSR and Eastern Europe were the target of its campaigns. It is also significant that the Indian government keeps a close eye on Tibet, because of the threat of its regional rival, Chinese imperialism.
So during the French President's recent state visit, the reason that Brown didn't favour a boycott of the Olympics, while Sarkozy didn't rule it out, wasn't because one was more humanitarian than the other, but because of different approaches to the best way to defend imperialist interests. The defence of ‘human rights' and opposition to ‘national oppression' are standard weapons of the most bloodthirsty ruling class in history. When they talk of their desire for peace, watch out for their preparations for war. Car 5/4/8