[Outlook]Face reality on TibetIn 1989, I started working for the JoongAng Ilbo as a rookie reporter. My first task was to cover news from local police stations, and then I was assigned to an international news team to cover news from Central and South America and from Africa. Tragic incidents took place daily in those areas and powerful countries such as the United States and the former Soviet Union were behind the scenes. It was frightening to witness strong countries pursuing imperialism and treating weaker ones as something to make use of.
In August, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. I was the first Korean reporter in Baghdad, which made me a war correspondent. On the ground, I could see that America’s Middle East policy had two distinctly different standards. The policy on Israel and other Middle Eastern countries were exact opposites from each other, like black and white. The United States and the Soviet Union were not the only countries that pursued imperialism. In the past, Western countries committed atrocities in Central and South America, Asia and Africa.
And now China’s violent crackdown on Tibetan demonstrations is an issue around the globe. By staging protests with the Olympic Games nearing, Tibetans have succeeded in drawing the world’s attention.
When China used violence to suppress Tibetan protests, the Western world responded immediately. Britain’s Prince Charles declared he would not attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, also talked about the same possibility. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said he was leaving all possibilities open, including a boycott of the opening ceremony. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany implied that she might not attend the opening ceremony. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi flew to Dharmsala, India to meet the Dalai Lama. Only Russia, which is tied down with the Chechnya issue and North Korea and which has claimed to have a blood alliance with China, has expressed support.
Many countries criticize China’s violent crackdown on Tibetans because they perceive that Tibet belongs to its native people. Westerners seem to think it is unforgivable for China to forcibly occupy another people’s land and use violence to maintain their hold. This makes perfect sense.
However, perfect sense doesn’t always work in reality. If one takes certain measures without consideration of reality, the measures will likely worsen the situation. Since 1720 when Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty sent in his troops, Tibet has been China’s territory. This is a well-known fact in history. There is no way that Western countries are unaware of this because they have plenty of know-how about maintaining colonies.
Problems arose in the turbulent later period of the Qing Dynasty. Great Britain, which took India, attempted to occupy Tibet as the Qing Dynasty was weakening. In 1888 and 1903, Great Britain sent troops to Tibet.
As a result, Great Britain got exclusive privileges there, but the European country, in return, admitted that China had sovereignty. In 1947, India earned independence and actual dominance over Tibet was handed from Great Britain to India.
China then used force to occupy Lhasa in 1951, shortly after China became communist. China, however, acknowledged that Great Britain had privileges over Tibet as before. It is not a coincidence that the Dalai Lama chose India to seek asylum in that year. India and Tibet are like families on an emotional level. Shortly thereafter, the former Soviet Union started trying to improve relations with Tibet in an attempt to make Tibet a threshold for southward expansion.
Since then, China has viewed the Tibet issue not as an issue of a minority ethnic group but as an issue of national security. This is why China is desperate where Tibet is concerned. China believes that Tibet’s independence means the division of China. China might give up or lose the Olympic Games but it will never give up Tibet.
Thus, China will attempt to control Tibet using even harsher measures. If China talks about Western imperialism and Western countries’ invasion of other countries and if China takes countermeasures, say, economic retaliation, the world economy will slow down. Of course, the chance of Tibet regaining independence will be almost zero.
Then the solution is simple. We must help China resolve its insecure feelings. We should acknowledge China’s sovereignty over Tibet. We should stop linking Tibet to the Olympic Games. Instead, we can make China’s acceptance of Tibetan technical and extensive autonomy a precondition for acknowledging China’s sovereignty. If China doesn’t fear division, it will become more gentle and flexible.
Only then can Tibet realize its freedom. We need a measure that considers reality.
*The writer is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Jin Se-keun