Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Do We Even HAVE a Secretary of State?

The always excellent Anne Applebaum (who should be on the Op-Ed page of the NYTimes instead of MoDo) writes about the ongoing unrest in Tibet:
And like all of its predecessors, the Chinese imperial class cares deeply about the pacification of the imperial periphery, more so than one might think.

For proof of this, look no further than the biography of Hu Jintao, the current Chinese president -- and former Communist Party boss of Tibet. In 1988 and 1989, the time of the last major riots, Hu was responsible for the brutal repression of dissident Tibetan monks and for what the Dalai Lama has called China's policy of "cultural genocide": the importing of thousands of ethnic Han Chinese into Tibet's cities, to dilute and eventually outbreed the ethnic Tibetan population.

Clearly, the repression of Tibet matters enormously to China's ruling clique, or members would not have promoted Hu, its mastermind, so far. The pacification of Tibet must also be considered a major political and propaganda success, or it would not have been copied by the Chinese-backed Burmese regime last year and repeated by the Chinese themselves in Tibet last week. Tibet is to China what Algeria once was to France, what India once was to imperial Britain, what Poland was to czarist Russia: the most unreliable, most intransigent and at the same time most symbolically significant province of the empire.

Keep that in mind over the next few days and months, as China tries once again to belittle Tibet, to explain away a nationalist uprising as a bit of vandalism. The riots of the past week began as a religious protest. Tibet's monks were demonstrating against laws that, among other things, require them to renounce the Dalai Lama. The monks' marches then escalated into generalized, unplanned, anti-Chinese violence, culminating in attacks on Han Chinese shops and businesses, among them -- as you can see on the cellphone videos -- the Lhasa branch of the Bank of China.

However the official version evolves, in other words, make no mistake about it: This was not merely vandalism, it could not have been organized solely by outsiders, it was not only about the Olympics, and it was not the work of a tiny minority. It was a significant political event, proof that the Tibetans still identify themselves as Tibetan, not Chinese. As such, it must have significant reverberations in Beijing. The war in Algeria brought down France's Fourth Republic. The dissident movements on its periphery helped weaken the Soviet Union. Right now, I'd wager that Hu Jintao's Tibet policy is causing a lot of consternation among his colleagues.

And if they aren't worried, they should be. After all, the past two centuries were filled with tales of strong, stable empires brought down by their subjects, undermined by their client states, overwhelmed by the national aspirations of small, subordinate countries. Why should the 21st century be any different? Watching a blurry cellphone video of tear gas rolling over the streets of Lhasa yesterday, I couldn't help but wonder when -- maybe not in this decade, this generation or even this century -- Tibet and its monks will have their revenge.

So if we were to ever get a handle on this Tibet thing, and properly support an oppressed people against the Chinese regime, could we do so in a way that doesn't antagonize them? Probably not--but if we were to back Tibet in such a way as to convince China to pressure North Korea, who knows? For purely moral reasons, yes, we should be concerned about Tibet. For purely political reasons, why shouldn't we cause the Chinese a little pain over this issue?

We are never going to get back our moral authority in the world if we take a pass on issues like Tibet. We need to consistently speak about human rights and champion the cause of people who are being oppressed. It is in our best long-term interests to find a way to connect with the world on issues like human rights again. We cannot go around talking tough to the Chinese while our own people waterboard mentally ill people and while our own state security apparatus rivals the Chinese one at spying on the innocent.

So do we even have a functioning State Department? Secretary Rice wows us with this:
Statement by Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
March 15, 2008
I am deeply saddened to learn that the turmoil that erupted yesterday in Lhasa following what began as peaceful protests has resulted in the loss of lives, and I am concerned that the violence appears to be continuing. I also am concerned by reports of a sharply increased police and military presence in and around Lhasa. We call on the Chinese government to exercise restraint in dealing with these protests, and we strongly urge all sides to refrain from violence.

President Bush has consistently encouraged the Chinese government to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama directly and through his representatives so that long-standing issues with regard to Tibet may be resolved. We urge China to respect the fundamental and universally recognized right of all of its citizens to peacefully express their political and religious views, and we call on China to release monks and others who have been detained solely for the peaceful expression of their views. We also urge China to address policies in Tibetan areas that have created tensions due to their impact on Tibetan religion, culture, and livelihoods.

All that, when what we should say is this:
The United States condemns the actions of the Chinese government and calls on other nations to join it in this condemnation and to express support for the oppressed people of Tibet.

See, that wasn't so hard was it? Instead of urging them to stop slaughtering people, let's condemn them for it. And then let's start stripping them of trade agreements and question whether they can even host the Olympics.

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