a community of singaporeans


Posted by theonlinecitizen on March 18, 2008

By Koh Jie Kai

It seems to me that the riots in Tibet are in many ways similar to the riots that erupted against Chinese communities in urban areas all over South East Asia over the past few hundred years.

Anti- Chinese riots are not a new thing, and the tale seems to have a familiar ring to it- poor industrious Chinese move into indigenious areas, out-compete the natives, which results in native resentment and rioting.

There were anti-Chinese riots in Manila in the 1680s (see 1688: A Global History by John Mears, a very interesting book) , just as there were in KL and Singapore in the 60s and Jakarta in 1998.

The difference between the Tibetan riots and the South East Asian riots is of course that the Mainlanders are in political and military control over Tibet.

And unlike Singapore, the Mainlanders assert that Tibet has always been part of China, and have been pursuing a policy of colonising Tibet (instead of simply exacting tribute/ fealty to the Son of Heaven, as in dynasties past). It is both the political and economic domination of Tibet that has led to the riots in Lhasa.

But no doubt helped by their own delusional propaganda, the top Communists probably believe that this week’s riots were started by the Dalai Lama himself. And so a grim-faced Wen Jiabao claims that the Tibetan protests were started by the “Dalai Lama organisation”- the way he said it and the words he used implied that this was no work of a small group of organisers ( in other words, not a “clique” as the BBC translates it), but the work of a determined, ruthless terrorist organisation.

This is of course not a particularly credible or helpful explanation. What has probably caused this week’s riots was a mixture of sharp economic inequality mixed with quixotic messages of freedom and independence from Tibetan Independence activists who are not quite as pacifist as the Dalai Lama.

The protesters were screaming “long live the Dalai Lama”, for the same reason the Burmese protesters shouted support for Aung San Suu Kyi last year- they’re both potent symbols of freedom from oppression (economic and political), not that these two individuals directed the protesters to do so.

The Dalai Lama certainly doesn’t approve of the violence exacted by the protesters. (By the way, I think that the ordinary Chinese people who were injured, killed, and had their property destroyed are just as much victims of their own government’s policy as the Tibetans; it was their government’s policy which led to all this trouble, but they bore the brunt of the suffering).

The political elite on the Mainland isn’t going to admit- not even to themselves- that this is mostly likely to be the case. Why would they rather believe the conspiracy theory even if they don’t find evidence for it (bar evidence such as confessions exacted under torture, or sympathetic utterances by various inconsequential legislators from various western democracies)?

I think we have to attempt to see things from their perspective. The first is a deep seated feeling that Chinese people can only possibly be the victims in global politics, and never perpetrators of evil to other peoples. The second is a suspicion that all countries with significant military power (especially Western democracies), are out to hobble China‘s rise to global power.

The third is an adherence to an orthodoxy about what is rightfully land belonging to China which goes something like this: all land which has been previously conquered by a dynasty recognised as effectively Chinese rightfully belongs to China today, unless that was (a) conquered by the Yuan dynasty or (b) the people that now sit on those lands are too strong for us to overcome for now, which is fine by us because they are not really Chinese anyway ( applies to Mongolia, Vietnam and Korea).

The fourth is an ethnic prejudice against other cultures which never built empires holding significant political and cultural sway over large enough swathes of the earth.

These attitudes have, I think, helped shape Mainland policy towards Tibet.

The protest by the political elite and some educated Mainlanders would be that it is not as if China is deliberately impoverishing Tibet and stripping the land of its natural resources, that China has thrown a lot of money at the, apparently, ungrateful Tibetans. Which is true; there has been quite a lot of money involved in attempting to improve the economic lot of Tibetans.

But that is not the point- the point is that this economic development was going to be done with Chinese money and labour, with little Tibetan input.

With the money also came the immigration of Chinese not all that better off than Tibetans- I wouldn’t be surprised if most of these immigrants came from the impoverished inland provinces.

The Mainland government probably underestimated the inherent sensitivities involved with such levels of immigration- they probably calculated that the Tibetans would be “grateful” because this influx of money and (Chinese) labour was the most efficient solution to bringing about economic development.

They probably thought that such immigration would pose less problems than immigration to the rich coastal cities, because they only thought of immigration problems in terms of overcrowding, never ethnic tensions.

What will the Mainland government do now?

It can’t have a bloody crackdown on its hands- not when the Olympics are only months away. It should start negotiations with the Dalai Lama to find some way of accomodating demands for even greater autonomy, but this would be too much for the political elite to stomach.

It could try to limit immigration into Tibet, and in fact I think this is what the Mainland government will probably do, and will buy them a bit more time in Tibet.

The alternative – accelerating its current economic and immigration policies and harsher political crackdowns in an attempt to uncover DalaiLama-led conspiracies against it, will probably provoke something worse than mere urban rioting.



10 Responses to “Tibet”

  1. Gerald said

    Great article!

    The immigration of Han Chinese to Tibet is not unlike the immigration of Jewish settlers into the Palestinian territories. Hence, while not to be condoned, the violent reaction of Tibetans to the “Chinese settlers” is not surprising. The Dalai Lama is an easy scapegoat for Wen Jiabao. Same way that Yasser Arafat was blamed by Israel for every terrorist attack on the Jewish state, even it was committed by groups like Islamic Jihad over which he had little control.

  2. Jackson said

    History has proven that Tibet has always been a part of China. Chinese troops in the 1950s were there not to liberate the region but simply to take back what’s theirs. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what the Chinese government is doing. It’s their internal affair. This is analogous to a husband-wife quarrel. If the wife quarrels with the husband because of domestic reasons, does the police have sufficient authority to interfere?

  3. Thomas said

    I think the article brushed over the complex ethnic make up of China. Since its inception modern day China has maintained territory integrity through Communism and its totalitarian regime. With the transition to a market economy Communism has been replaced with a nationalist ideology that depends on a shared common history of the Chinese people. Allowing differences and autonomy for various groups would mean subverting that idea. This is why the government refuses to meet with the Dalai Lama despite his advocacy for autonomy. Moreover Dalai Lama’s greatest concern is the communist party’s so called “cultural genocide” where Tibetans have encountered systematic threats to their culture and heritage. This is analogous to a Suharto policy in Indonesia of homogenizing the disparate cultures and ethnicities. This includes encouraging the Javanese to migrate to various parts of the Indonesian archipelago, marginalizing local culture and heritage in schools, discriminating against minorities for positions in government and favouring Javanese businesses.

    You cannot conflate Yasser Arafat and the Dalai Lama. One advocates non-violence and the other gave tacit support to violent extremists and their terrorist acts. Though the analogy of Zionism, the settling of Israelis in disputed territories, to gain control is not too far off. Or to the actions of the American government in encouraging immigrants to take over Native American lands. Or to the actions of the Australian government, recently apologized for, in marginalizing aborigines. Its a tried and tested method of exerting control.

    Once upon a time the Korean was part of China. Family quarrels don’t need physical intervention maybe counselling. But you have to agree when the husband starts beating the wife its time somebody intervenes. And I think that’s a more accurate analogy.

  4. Mike said

    Vietnam, Mongolia, Korea etc were once part of China. They are now all independent. Vietnam was lost after heavy losses on the Ming Dynasty, Korea from a vassal state gaining ‘independence’ from China after the first Sino-Japanese War while Mongolia declared its official independence 1924 after 13 years of struggle once its 1st attempt.

    Above are simply examples of Nations that are ethnically different the Han CHinese which managed to effectively depose the China’s Control down the historical lineage.

    In fact, the only time in history whereby the ethnic HANs ruling themselves only was in the Song Dynasty. Tibet and much of Northern and Western China were not within their zone of control. Kudos to Gengis Khan and his grandson Khublai Khan to add sooo much ‘extra’ lands for the subsequent dynasties in China. Though one could argue that China bestowed equal status across to all the different ethnic groups…. mindful that Han Chinese accounts for well over 90% of the entire population. In any case, how can the different ethnic groups to preserve their culture integrity without subjugating to Han Chinese influence. ‘Culture Massacre’ as described by Dalai Lama.

    As much told by history, though the Hans do not usually invade others but they would however, retain control over the lands ‘added’ to their realm of control through by their invaders.

    So what’s in for Tibet awaits all.

  5. Why talk so much about races. The main point I want to highlight is all these races belong to the Yellow race. Japanese also is one of it. Siberians are in the family too.

    The issue at present is that maybe the Chinese authority let the rioters go wild and film all the violence actions to damn foreign propaganda, so they can latter clam down hard on them. It will be over very soon, as many will be arrested and put in jail.

    Tibetan lamas are the ruling elite in Tibetan culture. They are no difference from the Communist. There is no human rights and democracy. They base their practice on astrology which is not the teaching of Buddha. So Tibetan Buddhism is a cult.

    So what human rights and democracy can the Tibetans voice out ? A baby is borned and designed to be a Dalai Lama, another is borned is designed to be a beggar. These babies have no rights to their future. So it is bullshit for Tibetans to talk about human rights.

  6. And so thus one cannot talk of democracy for the Tibetans?

    Eh, that’s just a fallacy of relying too much on historical precedents to justify repression lah.

  7. PAP is one party ruler in Singapore. At least Singaporeans are allowed to vote.

    Lamas are one party rulers for the Tibetans. Tibetans are not allowed to vote for others. The lamas appoint themselves as lamas. With these lamas, how can the country progress ? They don’t marry, so can Tibet be strong in population.

    So you prefer lamas to rule Tibet than the politicians to rule them ? Might as well ask the monks, priest, imams etc to rule Singapore.

  8. Wah lau, tell you fallacy of precedence means you don’t take the past as a precedence.

    Get it? Maybe not.

  9. Thomas said

    Kew Kah Fatt:

    The Dalai Lama is first and foremost a spiritual leader akin to the Catholic Pope. His secondary role which he intends to retire from is his political role.

    Regarding the question whether the Tibetans have a democratic voice. Tibetans in Tibet definitely do not. Though Tibetans in exile do have government in exile in . Moreover Tibetans in exile vote for a Parliament and Prime Minister. The Dalai Lama says he is ceding whatever political power he has to this organization. Whether the Tibetan Government in Exile truly represents the aspiration of the Tibetans in Tibet is another question. But it is definitely a more democratic alternative to the Communist party apparatus ruling over Tibet currently.

  10. Thomas,

    The Pope can rule over a small town. Tibet is very big in area. Just look at Mongolia. How can they control their border.

    Regarding democracy for exiled Tibetans, how many of the office bearers are laymen ? I think most are lamas. They are the privileged group living on charity from others.

    CIA supported them in the ’50s and ’60s in money and arms. This is now open secret. Without outside help, do you think they can organise a world wide areas of demonstration ?

    The main probem in Tibet is the Buddhism they practise. Theirs is a cult Buddhism basing on astrology. The lamas want to control the people using astrology. So you say this is human rights and democracy ? New borns are subjected to cold dip to see whether they can survive in Tibetan cold. Those turning blue are killed. Is this human rights ? This is Tibetan practice as written in The 3rd Eye.

    The present demonstration is helped by outsiders who want to throw insult at China and Chinese. These outsiders are mostly Western countries who want to shame China during this Olympic period and American election. American politicians like to throw mud at China during this period.

    When the Tibetans have a higher per persona income, they will stop all these nonsense and they will review their own Tibetan Buddhism whether they are relevant in this modern time.

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