Giant on the move
from Africa News blog:
By Isaac Esipisu
Given that China is South Africa’s biggest trading partner and given the close relationship between Beijing and the ruling African National Congress, it didn’t come as a huge surprise that South Africa was in no hurry to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama.
Tibet’s spiritual leader will end up missing the 80th birthday party of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fellow Nobel peace prize winner. He said his application for a visa had not come through on time despite having been made to Pretoria several weeks earlier. (Although South Africa’s government said a visa hadn’t actually been denied, the Dalai Lama’s office said it appeared to find the prospect inconvenient).
Desmond Tutu said the government’s action was a national disgrace and warned the President and ruling party that one day he will start praying for the defeat of the ANC government.
It’s the second time the Dalai Lama has been unable to honour an invitation to South Africa by Tutu after failing to make it to a meeting in 2010.
South Africa will certainly win more plaudits in Beijing, which last week agreed to $2.5 billion in investment projects with during a visit by South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.
[A volunteer on the outskirts of Beijing in a campaign urging Obama to honour promises and ensure the U.S. plays a key role in climate change negotiations. Pic by Jason Lee.]
U.S. President Barack Obama hopes to win over a sometimes wary Chinese public at a “townhall” meeting in Shanghai on Monday, inviting questions from young people and also — the White House hopes — reaching out across the Internet to the country’s some 300 million Internet users.
But Obama better prepare for some combative, and outright odd, quizzing, to judge from Chinese Internet web sites that have begun inviting people to suggest questions to lob at Obama.
Before the Dalai Lama spoke on the sober subjects of religion and the environment in Taiwan during a speech this week, he opened with a quip about his English.
“First thing, no grammar, no proper grammar,” the 73-year-old said with a low-pitched staccato laugh while addressing a full auditorium of residents in the southern city of Kaohsiung. “There is a danger to get misunderstandings, so I always tell you, be careful Dalai Lama’s broken English.”
from Africa News blog:
Organisers have postponed a conference of Nobel peace laureates in South Africa after the government denied a visa to Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who won the prize in 1989 - five years after South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu won his and four years before Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk won theirs for their roles in ending the racist apartheid regime.
Although local media said the visa ban followed pressure from China, an increasingly important investor and trade partner, the government said it had not been influenced by Beijing and that the Dalai Lama's presence was just not in South Africa's best interest at the moment.
Beijing has poured money into Tibet over decades of trying to bring the restive region to heel, raising average wages, restoring cultural treasures like the Potala Palace, even paying a monthly stipend to monks who hold government permits. Local officials are sensible about this munificence and grateful for the help in running one of China’s poorest regions. “The support of the government is the reason for Tibet’s development. Without their backing….Tibet could not be its the current position,” Tsering, vice chairman of the regional government, told reporters on a recent officially sponsored trip. Tsering, like many Tibetans, uses only one name. The sentiments of ordinary Tibetans are more complicated. Many of them resent the political baggage that comes with the funds and the influx of Han Chinese who have followed. There is little question that life has improved materially for many over the last 50 years, particularly in rural areas where scholars say the harshness of farming life has also kept outsiders away, helping to preserve traditional culture.
“Life is better now. Every day is like our old New Year,” said 55 year-old Gelek, a farmer who speaks only Tibetan and greeted a foreign visitor the old-fashioned way, by sticking out his tongue.
He says he makes cash from vegetables grown for sale in Lhasa, has moved into a new house, and eats meat far more often than as a young man.
But frustrated urbanites face discrimination and often see jobs that are created with cash from Beijing going to Han Chinese competitors.
“They are very lovable as a people, but they are not really motivated about work,” said one senior Han Chinese intellectual working in Lhasa who works with several Tibetans but shares prejudices common among many outsiders.
“They start (a project) and then they go off for a drink and sometimes you call, and call and they don’t even answer.” Many monks and nuns, whose numbers and religious activities are constrained by the government, also resent a ban on expressing their devotion to the man they still revere as spiritual leader — the exiled Dalai Lama, who has been denounced by Beijing as a scheming separatist. The Dalai Lama denies this accusation, saying he seeks only genuine autonomy within China, not a separate nation. Many Tibetans also appear more interested in religious and cultural freedoms than independence. But on their right to those freedoms most Tibetans agree. Few have time for Beijing’s ubiquitous assertion that Tibet has always been a part of China, which even led to a dispute over the Chinese version of a Tintin comic book — published as “Tintin in China’s Tibet” instead of just a straight translation of the English title “Tintin in Tibet”. “They treat us like a child and think they can deceive us. But we know Tibet was once an independent country,” said a monk called Jigme in Tongren, an ethnic Tibetan part of neighbouring Qinghai province.
Photo Credit: Sixty-eight-year-old Tibetan farmer Danzeng Basa adjusts his solar-powered kettle outside his recently built house in a small village outside Lhasa, Feb. 12, 2009. REUTERS/Emma Graham-Harrison
Thirty years ago today, China invaded its one-time Communist ally Vietnam to “teach it a lesson”, to the delight of Beijing’s newfound friend, Uncle Sam, which was still smarting from having lost its own Vietnam War.
The attack came on the heels of Washington switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing and a closed-door meeting between China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and U.S. President Jimmy Carter in Washington.
Three decades on, it remains unclear just how much Deng told Carter about the incursion and whether Washington offered any assistance such as satellite imagery of Vietnamese troops and military bases.
Until the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department declassify minutes of the meeting, the world will not know for sure whether the United States offered to back China in the event the Soviet Union rushed to Vietnam’s rescue.
Now the great wheel of history has turned again, and 30 years on, the United States is seeking China’s help in applying pressure on another Communist neighbour, North Korea.
China’s foray into Vietnam was brief yet in some ways disastrous. Its troops suffered terribly against the battle-hardened Vietnamese who were fighting on their home soil.
But there is no arguing that the invasion was a watershed event that smoothed the way for China to mend fences with the West. American investors, tourists and students flocked to China. Western and Japanese aid and loans flowed in, while trade and investment mushroomed, helping to transform the world’s most populous nation from an economic backwater into an export powerhouse and the world’s third-biggest economy.
In an apparent quid pro quo, China abandoned its longstanding policy of “liberating” Taiwan and offered “peaceful reunification” in an overture to the self-ruled island it has claimed as its own since their split in 1949 amid civil war.
Also in 1979, Deng invited Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to visit, prompting the latter to renounce advocacy of Tibetan independence, beseech CIA-armed and -trained Tibetan guerrillas to end their struggle and send his older brother to China on fact-finding trips.
The United States softened its criticism of human rights abuse in China, including the imprisonment of dissident Wei Jingsheng for challenging Deng at the height of the Democracy Wall movement.
American Sinologist David Shambaugh described as a “marriage of convenience” the teaming up of the United States and China to curb Soviet expansionism.
On a lighter note, American culture invaded China. Many Chinese traded their Mao suits for jeans or business suits and dined at McDonald’s and KFC outlets. Hollywood movies and rock ‘n’ roll — once considered decadent by China’s ideologues — swept many Chinese off their feet.
The honeymoon abruptly ended on June 4, 1989, when Chinese troops crushed student-led demonstrations for democracy centred on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. China slipped into diplomatic isolation in the face of U.S. sanctions.
China broke out of isolation and forced the United States to deal with it after menacing Taiwan with war games in the run-up to the island’s first direct presidential elections in 1996. Bilateral relations see-sawed in the ensuing years, hitting low points when NATO bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and a U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese jet fighter over Chinese airspace.
Fast forward to February 2009. When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits on Friday, she will be dealing with a richer, more confident and assertive China. Again, but now in peacetime, it will be a China that needs the United States as much as the United States needs China.
The United States needs China to help rein in a nuclear North Korea and help nurse the global economy back to health. But China’s abrupt slowdown in growth and exports shows that it remains yoked to U.S. fortunes.
Photo Credit: A Vietnamese border guard stands next to a border marker between China’s Guangxi and Vietnam’s Lang Son provinces on Jan. 13, 2009. REUTERS/Kham
I caught up with IOC vice president Thomas Bach for an interview the other day in his Berlin office.
Bach has been one of the most eloquent opponents of any boycott of the Summer Olympics in Beijing — leading a lightning pro-Games campaign earlier this year when tensions in Tibet flared.