Trouble in Tibet

Some things don’t change, and this remains true of China. However hard the West seeks engagement, and despite the clear importance of China in global economic terms (see this week’s Economist Special Report), we remain in different worlds. Nothing has pointed this up so starkly than the unfolding violence in Tibet, and the response of China, caught between what it probably would like to do (Tianmen Square Mk. 2) and still may, and what it can, given the Beijing Olympics. In, Richard McGregor reports:

A dispatch from Xinhua, the state news agency, over the weekend, called the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader a “master terror maker” who had willed his supporters in Lhasa to stage violent demonstrations.

“Now the blaze and blood in Lhasa has unclad the nature of the Dalai Lama, it’s time for the international community to recheck their stance towards the group’s camouflage of non-violence, if they do not want to be willingly misled,” the Xinhua report said.

Such hectoring missives typify the Chinese response, which has been to place the protests firmly in the context of the wider sovereignty dispute, the most sensitive issue for the ruling communist party.

With the Beijing 2008 only months away, and a US Presidential election campaign gathering steam, what is now happening in Lhasa and elsewhere in Tibet will have much wider repercussions, whether the Chinese like it or not. Meanwhile the Dalai Lama walks a difficult line:

“The Tibet nation is facing serious danger. Whether China’s government admits or not, there is a problem,” he said at a press conference at Dharamsala, India, on Sunday. “(But) the Olympics should not be called off.”

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