What is it that the Students for a free Tibet (SFT), an activity being run in Atlantic College; want Tibet to be free from? If the answer is China, then SFT should certainly stop and think about what it is they are demanding. If it isn’t China, then they should make there goals and aims clearer, and perhaps stop walking around campus with ambiguous, easily misunderstood, statements like ‘Free Tibet’ on their armbands.
Halfway through the 20th century China was a poverty-stricken land, laid waste by decades of civil war, occupied and sacked by Japanese militarism and subject to the machinations of the imperialist powers.
Warlords and feudal despots exercised untrammelled power in their fiefdoms while religious tyranny was widespread. This applied to Tibet as much as the rest of China.
Now, however, for all the mistakes of the Chinese government, China stands someway up a huge mountain of modernisation; in front of them is where they are headed, and behind them where they have come from. The successes of their policies have been tangible, with huge improvements in living standards.
Nowhere is this truer than in Tibet, where the abolition of slavery and serfdom liberated the mass of the people, prompting the landowners and feudal lords to resort to force of arms in the 1950s to halt social progress and revert to the old pre-revolutionary regime.
Their comprehensive defeat in 1959 was a prelude to raising Tibetan educational, health and living standards. Last year’s opening of the Qinghai-Lhasa railway on the roof of the world was a major step forward for Tibet’s economic and cultural development, enhancing links with the rest of China. SFT claim the only purpose of the building this multi-million-pound railway was to assist with migration to and from Tibet, helping them to ‘erode Tibetan culture’. Whilst it is true that the railways have helped with migration, the reality that no more than 5 per cent of Tibet’s population is either Han Chinese or from any other of China’s 56 national minorities gives the lie to claims of ethnic swamping or dilution of Tibet’s cultural essence. Additionally, SFT fails to recognise that increased accessibility is a positive thing. Every nation strives towards the improvement of domestic infrastructure and increased accessibility to rural areas: A mobile labour force leads to a productive labour force, and a productive labour force leads to improved standards of living.
I am aware, however, that the Chinese government is no saint. However, we westerners should be aware of our hypocrisy. There should, of course, be a global movement to end capital punishment, in China as well as America. There should, of course, be a global movement to end torture, in China as well as America. There should, of course, be a global movement to protect minority languages and cultures, in China as well as Britain and Spain.
It irritates me when I see westerners campaigning to boycott the Olympic Games. I ask myself, why are they not also campaigning to boycott London 2012 Olympics? The UN, along with most in this college, would agree that the most sacred human right is the right to life. China’s economic progress has ended the mass starvation that so recently engulfed the country on a regular basis.
Those who lecture China on human rights, especially from the US and Britain, should perhaps, in light of the illegal invasion of Iraq, which has brought about more than a million deaths, ponder the relationship between stones and glass houses.
Alex Michie (AC 06-08)
– UWC Student Magazine –