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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Dalai Lama's Envoy Speaks Out.... - www.phayul.com

Dalai Lama's Envoy Speaks Out.... - www.phayul.com

Mr Gyari on right of pictureThe Uygur and Tibetan situations are very similar. In reading any story on Tibet or the Uygur you could just swap names and you would not know the difference. The Chinese are consistent if nothing else.

The linked article deals with the Dalai Lama's Special Envoy Lodi Gyari thanking the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference for support of the Tibetan's situation.

Special Envoy Lodi Gyari right of picture

A few of things about this article stood out for me beside the litany of human rights violations that we are so familiar with in the Uygur's situation.

Firstly is the theory he puts forward that China's policy towards the Tibetans (and we can assume the Uygur) is as a direct result of the break up of the Soviet Union.

He believes that through the PRC's analysis as to why the Soviet Union collapsed they came to the conclusion that something similar could happen in China. Further, he believes that they identified religion as being a key determinate in the Soviet's demise.

They conducted this analysis, he postulates, to attempt to avoid a similar fate:

"They did this because they wanted to take pre-emptive measures to prevent the same thing happening to China and Tibet'.

'Their investigators reported that the disintegration of the Soviet communist system largely came about because the people's religion, particularly the Catholic faith, had outlived it. This is the view overall in China, particularly for Tibet'.

The article then goes on to provide facts as to anti-religious policies in Tibet to support this theory.

If one believes that this was an overriding concern why then has this policy really only been used against the Tibetan Buddhists and the Uygur Muslims and to a lesser known extent Christians? Muslims for example in the "Inland" (Eastern China and predominantly Hui)) have very few restrictions placed on them in comparison with the Uygur.

I think that this "religion theory" does go a long way in understanding China's position vis a vis the Uygur and the Tibetans but falls short of a total answer. I have no doubts though that some serious soul searching took place within the ranks of China's politburo in the early 90's.

There are some things that set the Tibetans and the the Uygurs apart from other religious groups in China

  1. They are congregated in particular areas
  2. They are reasonably sizeable
  3. They are in border regions and,
  4. they are ethnically different

I think then that yes religion would have been identified as a potential threat to the regime but it had to be combined with certain other characteristics, namely the above. That is why some religious followers have fared better than others.

The exception of course is the Christians. By some reports they have fared even worse than the Uygurs or the Tibetans but because of their diverse nature their treatment has not come to the the attention of the world to the extent of the former.

I can only conclude that they constituted different types of threats. The Tibetans and Uygurs as separatist threats and the Christians as long term regime threats. Memories of Christian Missionaries must hold fearful connotations.

I would not hesitate to throw in the race/racist angle as well as being a factor in the treatment of the Uygur and Tibetans. I think xenophobia has very much a lot to do with it.

The second very interesting thing about the article was the fate of the Panchen Lama who was abducted as a child in 1989 and stands (if he is alive) to succeed the current Dalai Lama.

Having personally come late to the Tibetan's problems I am not totally au fait with this story but am amazed that it has not received far more attention. To use a Christian analolgy isn't it tantamount to kidnapping the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury?

The penultimate point of interest for me was the question of globalisation and the ever increasing economic involvement of Western nations with the Chinese government.

Mr. Gyari felt it was unfortunate that many Western politicians had ignored religion and religious questions in their dealings with the Chinese. This for me is an understatement. In their quest for the almighty dollar, or whatever currency they have they have not only ignored human rights violations but have effectively condoned them. Never has the time been better to use economic sanctions as a tool to force change on China.

Finally, Mr Gyari spoke of the Chinese leadership and his hopes that the newer crop, being far more worldly then their predecessors, may provide a ray of hope for the Tibetans and by extension the Uygurs.

This is something I too believe and hope for. China by entering the global economy has to move totally away from isolationist and insular type thinking and policies.

I do not think it has happened yet and I feel it may take a generation or two having spoken to younger Han who still are very Red Bookish and very defensive when it comes to such things as ethnic relations, but it has to happen. The Titanic could not turn on a sixpence but maybe a "sixpence" can turn China.

I hope that The Tibetans and the Uygurs are prepared to look longer term and in the meanwhile bide their time to a certain degree.

We have to get our "freedom loving" governments to put a bit of a financial screw on, not to much to turn the Chinese back but enough to allow them to move positively forward